murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Search Results for: “right royal

Right Royal Romantic Reunions (a Valentine story that is complete fiction) ….

A Right Romantic Royal Reunion

St Valentine’s Day in Leicester was all wind, rain and freezing cold temperatures, but the weather had not deterred the many people who had come to the King Richard III Visitor Centre. They were eager to see the exhibition about the man who had died in battle at nearby Bosworth in 1485, was lost for over five hundred years, and then found again, to be buried in 2015 in Leicester’s cathedral.

Of all the many displays, people most wanted to see Richard’s accurately modelled head, which stood on a plinth in a glass cabinet, with a beam of light directed from above. Richard, so reviled by Shakespeare and the Tudors, was now known not to have been a monster at all, but a handsome young man, whom thousands believed was a strong, good ruler. His increasing number of supporters insisted that had he lived, he would have been a truly great king. But, when a tragic widower of only thirty-two, he had been betrayed, killed in battle, and his crown usurped.

The rain was coming down even harder when the centre closed for the night, after which the only lighting was to aid the CCTV cameras that covered virtually every nook and cranny. Strange things were to happen before the Feast of St Valentine ended at midnight, but for some unknown reason, some of the cameras closed down for half an hour before midnight.

If they had gone on working, the resultant recording would have been sensational evidence of the existence of ghosts. Surprisingly, it would also prove that if history had not treated King Richard well, it had not been entirely fair to his usurping Tudor successor either. Well, in one respect, at least. In others the usurper was justifiably criticised.

Where the two spectral figures came from was impossible to say. They simply appeared at the stroke of half-past eleven, at the very moment the cameras switched off. One second there was no one by the model of Richard, the next a tall young man and dainty young woman were there, both dressed in 15th-century clothes of particular richness and beauty.

The man was slender, with reddish hair that clung about his shoulders. He wasn’t handsome, but arresting, with a thin, sallow visage, high cheekbones, and hooded, rather chilly eyes that were emphasised by his arched eyebrows. He gave a withdrawn impression, secretive and unhappy.

He wore costly black velvet trimmed with rare brown fur, and the heavy gilt collar across his shoulders was thick with amethysts, rubies and pearls. The same precious jewels adorned the brooch on his soft black hat. Anyone who knew their history would immediately recognise the young King Henry VII, Lancastrian founder of the House of Tudor, and the very usurper who had stolen Richard’s crown. Supposedly, his usurpation had ended the civil strife we now call the Wars of the Roses.

Henry, who was cordially loathed by Richard’s army of modern-day supporters, had been very ill and in pain when he died in April 1509 at the age of fifty-two. Tonight, however, he was no more than thirty again, his constitution strong..

The woman at his side was small and dainty, with a pale, oval face, shaved forehead and fair hair that was completely hidden beneath a short hennin headdress draped behind with a white gauze veil. A diamond-shaped golden pendant, with a magnificent sapphire, rested prettily against her forehead, and she carried a fresh white rose, symbol of the House of York, to which she belonged. Fixed to the bodice of her golden gown was a costly brooch in the form of a white boar, and beneath it an enamelled red heart with the letter ‘R’ picked out in diamonds. The boar was the personal cognizance of her husband, King Richard III, and the red heart had been the last Valentine gift he had given to her.

Queen Anne Neville had fallen victim to consumption not long before her husband’s terrible betrayal at Bosworth in 1485. Their only child, the little Prince of Wales, had passed away before her, so Richard had been a lonely man, deep in grief, when he defended his crown, his realm and his life that dreadful August day. Anne had been only twenty-eight when she had to begin her next existence so prematurely, but now, on this St Valentine’s Night, she was twenty again, fresh and lovely.

That Anne and Henry were an unlikely pair to stand together was obvious enough, because they had never met in life, and if they had, they would have been bitter enemies. But here they were, strangers, obliged by the dictates and whims of the hereafter to come to this particular place on this particular night in an attempt to be reunited with their lost spouses. Their chance of success did not seem good, after all, five hundred years had passed and for some unknown reason, they were both still alone. Anne had some hopes of the coming minutes, but Henry was resigned to failure.

They were decidedly awkward in each other’s company. So much so, that Anne was waspish. “There are countless people I would prefer be with on St Valentine’s Night than you, Henry Tudor.”

“The feeling is mutual, madam. I consider myself to have drawn the short straw, not only having you to contend with, but your cursed husband as well. His is the very last face on earth I wish to see.”

“And his very nearly was the last face you saw,” Anne replied.

He ignored the jibe about his close call at Bosworth, where another yard or so would have seen Richard despatching him to oblivion. “Besides,” he continued, “you are actually immaterial, because it’s my tiresome wife I want a word with.”

“Poor woman.”

“What about me?” Henry clearly felt hard done by.

“You? You’re just a parsimonious misery.”

“That’s what everyone says, and you’re all wrong.” He looked at Richard again. “Plague take the fellow,” he muttered.

Anne smiled lovingly at her husband’s likeness, wishing it were the complete living man again. How she longed for that, especially on this, the most romantic of all nights. Instead, she had Henry Tudor to put up with.

Henry was still grumbling. “What chance did I stand against such a rival? I could never win hearts as he did. The plaguey fellow’s still winning them now, half a millennium later.”

“Well, you didn’t even try, did you? You were—and still are—a scowling, frost-faced, unsympathetic, totally unloveable so-and-so, padding around your palaces like a hound with toothache.”

“I did have toothache.”

“Even so, it was your choice to be all the rest, so how you can stand here now and complain, I really do not know.”

Henry glowered. One of his eyes had a cast, which gave him a most disconcerting appearance.

Anne couldn’t resist goading him. “The wrong man lost at Bosworth, Henry, and he lost it because of heinous treachery.”

He groaned. “Oh, don’t start all that again. I know the Yorkist bleat by heart. Why can’t you admit that if the situation had been reversed, your dear Richard would have done as I did.”

Her eyes flashed. “Except for the dishonourable crime of flinging you naked over a horse, your body mutilated and disgraced.”

“I regret that.”

She made a disparaging, disbelieving noise, and turned her back on him to go closer to Richard. Her hand passed effortlessly through the protective glass cabinet, to touch the model’s cold, unyielding cheek. “Oh, my darling, most beloved Richard. I’ve been waiting so long for you,” she murmured, forgetting Henry entirely as she caressed the face. “But now you have been found again and buried properly, I hope we can be reunited at last. Please, my love.”

Her fingers traced adoringly over the unresponsive features, and then moved to the brooch in the velvet hat. It was such an insultingly cheap, over-large thing, with fake stones. Richard would never have worn something that vulgar and big. He had too much style and taste. She flicked the pendant pearl at the bottom, remembering that other, more joyous St Valentine’s Day, when she had presented the original to him. He had embraced her and kissed her lips right there, in front of the crowded great hall at Middleham. Such festivities had taken place that evening of romance, happiness and contentment. Such lovemaking when the curtains of the bed were eventually drawn, and they were alone at last . . .

Henry watched her. “I fail to see why you couldn’t have been reunited before. You knew where he was.” It wasn’t said unpleasantly, just curiously.

She gave him a dark glance. “Because you hid him away, and buried him ignominiously in a grave totally unworthy of a King of England. He and I would have been reunited immediately if he’d been laid to rest publicly and with respect. Being concealed like that has kept his soul here, instead of being freed to enjoy his second life in the hereafter. With me. And our son, who waits as well. Richard was incarcerated underground for all those centuries, but when they found him again and made this likeness, he somehow became trapped inside it. No one really knows what happened, just that this is where he is now.”

She paused to blink tears away, and then turned another accusing glare upon Henry. “Yet I notice you gave yourself an ostentatious tomb of almost ridiculous splendour, and are able to enjoy your second life as you please. You really are a horrid person, Henry Tudor.”

“Thank you so much.” He sketched a mocking bow, but then held up his hands in surrender. “Oh, very well, mea culpa, a thousand times over, but it does not explain why I have not been reunited with Bess.”

“Ah.”

“What is ‘ah’ supposed to mean?” he demanded suspiciously. “You know something, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, actually. She’s avoiding you.”

He looked blank. “Avoiding me? I don’t believe you.”

“Please yourself. But it’s true. She had more than enough of your miserable ways in life. Now, every time she sees you looming on the horizon, she hides until you’ve gone again.”

“She . . . has no reason to feel that way,” Henry answered haltingly.

Anne was taken aback to see true hurt in his eyes. “Oh, think a little, sir! You kept such a tight hold upon your purse strings that she had to all but pay to breathe your air.”

His hurt intensified. “That is not so! Truly it is not. I pandered to her whims. I paid her gambling debts—which were HUGE!—and I let her have those unnecessarily expensive greyhounds. All one hundred of them! I always provided for her. And cherished her, which is more than she ever did me.”

“She says you were grudging and always lecturing her. According to her, you didn’t love her at all, and your . . . well, your attentions in the marital bed were cursory and efficient. Not in the least gentle and considerate.”

Henry’s lips had parted in dismay. “You seem intent upon believing her, but what she says is not true. Love, hate. So close, are they not?”

Anne was unsettled by his reaction, and as he walked away to a nearby exhibit, she leaned closer to Richard. “Do you think maybe Bess of York has been fibbing a little? Heaven forfend, of course.”

But Richard did not respond. He remained a cold, hard model on a plinth. Even his wig was the wrong colour, she thought. Far too straight and dark. His real hair had been a rich, deep chestnut, wavy, thick and heavy. Oh, how she had loved to run her fingers through it. Well, to be honest, she had loved to run her fingers over all of him. Every delicious inch.

His hair might not have been correctly depicted, but his face was. Well, except for the eyebrows, which were surely based upon the largest, furriest caterpillars in creation. Richard’s eyebrows had been smooth and cared for. Next she looked at the model’s blue eyes, but his eyes had been grey. She drew herself up sharply. No! His eyes were still grey, for he would come to her again. He was not going to stay in the past, or in this model. She wouldn’t allow it!

Words whispered to him in life now returned to her lips. “Oh, prithee Richard, your Anne would be your Valentine again.”

As she fingered her red heart brooch, a gift from him, she could almost hear his laughing reply as he pinned it there. “Your Valentine again? Sweetheart mine, you are always my Valentine, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month of every year.”

He had been a prince among men, and she had never been worthy of him. Fresh tears filled her eyes. “I failed you as a wife, my love,” she murmured, swallowing as a lump rose in her throat. “I gave you only one son, and it was not enough. Then we both left you on your own, surrounded by traitors and unworthy foes. Forgive me, for I still love you so very much.”

Henry was close enough to hear, and turned to her. “Speaking as one of those unworthy foes, I wish to point out that yours was a political alliance, as was mine.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“You do not know anything about my marriage,” she declared.

“Hmm, yet you know all about mine, it would seem.”

She looked at him. “Perhaps I should not have spoken as I did.”

He inclined his head with that odd grace that was always his mark. “You judge me, but only have my wife’s testimony. I know your marriage to Richard was a calculated alliance on both your parts, for it’s as plain as the proverbial pikestaff. That you came to love each other deeply I do not doubt at all, indeed I am fully prepared to believe it. Yet you do not seem able to credit me with similar actions and feelings.”

Anne did not know what to say, because the man before her now was so very human that it did not seem possible he could be Henry Tudor.

He drew a long breath, leaned back against a display table, and folded his arms. “I married Bess because I had to, I admit it, but I soon loved her. She, however, remained cold, and refused to see my honest emotion. ‘Doing her duty’ was her creed, and she made no move to make the marriage more than a mere contract. She was Elizabeth Plantagenet, the White Rose of York, proud and disdainful, and never once wished her pristine petals to be joined with mine in the Tudor rose. It broke my heart when she died, but it would seem now that she departed gladly. Anything to get away from me. And so she breaks my heart again. Believe her if you wish—if you must—but at least remember that whatever it was she believes she endured at my hands, I endured it ten times over at hers.”

Anne could hear the pain in his voice, almost to the point of feeling it herself, and it affected her in a way she would never have expected. She felt sympathy—no, compassion! She, Anne Neville, was deeply affected by his private and very genuine distress.

Henry fished something from his purse. It was a beautifully embroidered silk badge . . . no, not a badge exactly, Anne thought, for it was heart-shaped. As she watched, he pinned it to his sleeve, and she saw it showed a likeness of Bess, with roses—white and Tudor—and the initials ‘E’ and ‘H’. He spoke quietly. “There, you see? I wear my heart on my sleeve.”

Then he moved away, pretending to examine other displays. Except for the silk heart, there was once again nothing to suggest he was anything other than the cool, calm, collected and controlled Henry Tudor to whom everyone was accustomed.

Anne glanced at Richard again. “I think we may wrong him in this particular respect, my love. Not in everything else, of course, but where love is concerned . . .” She didn’t finish.

The model did not move. There was no softening into living flesh, nor did its eyes meet hers or its lips part to speak. It was Richard, and yet it was not. She needed to be in his arms again, to feel his heart beat next to hers, and the warmth of his body in the secret night. His freedom to live his second life was everything to her now. As she, Henry and Bess already lived again, so he should too. It was so very lonely without him, and now, on the Feast of St Valentine, the sense of loss and echoing heartache was almost intolerable.

“Oh, why will you not come to me now?” she asked softly, not wanting Henry to hear again. “We have been apart for too many centuries. You have to come to me. If you do not, I will never forgive you!”

But nothing happened. There seemed no life within that beautiful image that tortured her with its close resemblance to the greatest love of her life. The only love of her life. Her heart was heavy as she drew a fingertip across his lips. “I cannot go on without you, Richard. Come to me. Please. Please!”

Henry spoke just behind her. “You and I have clearly done something wrong, my lady, for we are both to be refused the reunion we seek so earnestly.”

She gave such a start that he touched her hand apologetically. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I thought you realized I’d returned.”

“No, I didn’t.” She struggled to compose herself again. “Forgive me, I was lost in thought.”

“I can understand. There he is, so near and yet so very, very far.”

She nodded. That was just how Richard was to her.

He spoke sadly. “More than anything, I want to say to Bess the words I never said to her in life, that I love her. She may not want to hear it, indeed, she clearly does not, but I need to say it.”

Anne’s lips wobbled, and she burst into tears, because his sorrow had become hers. Henry hesitated, and then pulled her to him in a gesture of kindness and comfort. He was careful not to crush the white rose she carried, knowing that such a catastrophe would not go down well. “What a sorry pair we are,” he said. “Both of us needing our proud Plantagenet spouse, and both denied the solace we desire so very much.”

Her tears increased. She was overwhelmed that such complete understanding should be shared with Richard’s ultimate foe. At this moment, Henry Tudor offered the support that was suddenly essential to her.

He smiled a little. “How cruel fate can be. We have been sent here on this, of all days, and yet it seems that no matter what, we will be refused the easing of our hearts.”

“Maybe not this time. Maybe tonight we will find them again.” Sniffing, she stepped back to search in her purse for a kerchief that proved elusive.

He pressed his own into her hand, and winced a little as she blew her nose into it noisily. The finest, rarest, most heavenly silk—so costly!—and she— Well, no matter. What did anything really matter now?

Anne looked up at him gratefully. “I could almost like you.”

“I might say the same of you, my lady. Richard was a fortunate man. Well, in his marriage, at least.” Henry cleared his throat awkwardly, because for him to name Richard III as fortunate was surely inappropriate in the extreme.

Anne summoned a little smile. “I never thought I would say this, Henry Tudor, but I hope you find Bess and are able to tell her you love her. I really do wish it. If I see her, I will tell her she must be kind to you.”

He smiled again and kissed her hand. “Thank you, Lady Anne, and let me wish you success in regaining Richard.”

There was a soft sound from the cabinet, and Anne noticed to her astonishment that Richard’s hat brooch had fallen on to the plinth. “How . . . odd,” she said.

“Well, you were toying with it,” Henry pointed out sensibly.

He was right. She must have dislodged it.

Henry drew a long breath. “In our different ways, and after all this time, we deserve some happiness, don’t you think?”

“Yes. Henry, I—” She broke off as his gaze suddenly darted past her, towards one of the few shadowy corners where the lighting did not penetrate. “What is it?” she asked nervously, shrinking close to him again.

“There’s someone there,” he said softly. “It . . . it looks like—” His breath caught as a figure moved into the light. A beautiful woman, perhaps a little embonpoint, but unmistakably his beloved Bess of York.

She came closer, the rustle of her kingfisher silk gown audible in the silence. She too was young and lovely again, her red-gold hair cascading to her waist, and her eyes very blue. “Henry?” she said softly.

He gazed at her, unable to speak or move. Five hundred years was a long, long time.

“Oh, Henry, please forgive me,” Bess breathed.

Now his were the eyes that brimmed with tears.

She held out her hands. “Forgive me for never understanding. Come to me now. I will never spurn you again or do anything to hurt you. I love you too, you silly Welsh pudding, but you never once said the right thing at the right time.”

He hesitated. “And the right thing to say now is . . . ?”

“You know what it is.”

“I love you, Bess of York. I love you completely and always have.”

His queen extended her arms, and Anne gave him a gentle push. She watched as they clung together in an embrace that was centuries overdue, but then they began to fade from view. First she could see through them, and at the very moment their lips met, they disappeared completely.

The Visitor Centre seemed suddenly very empty. Or was it? Anne could hear her own heart beating, but was another beating too? One that she could sense, but not quite hear? She did not dare to turn towards the display cabinet again, for fear that he would be the same as before, a mere model, with the wrong eyes and hair, awful eyebrows and no life at all.

“Oh, Anne,” his voice said softly, “do you have so little hope of me?”

Her eyes closed. Please do not let her be imagining it.

“Anne?”

“I . . . am afraid to turn, Richard, because I fear you will not really be here.”

“Did Henry just imagine his Bess?”

“No, for I saw and heard them both.”

“You hear me, sweetheart, so turn . . . and see me too.”

“I cannot,” she whispered.

“Do you remember how we exchanged red hearts that St Valentine Day in York? I pinned one to your gown, and you wear it still. But do you recall what happened to the other?”

“I . . . yes, I fixed it to your hat.”

“Where it is now. Turn, sweetheart.”

Slowly, shakily, she did as he asked, and at first experienced sharp dismay that the model was still in the cabinet, seeming unchanged. But then a movement nearby caught her full attention. There he was, the complete man, her perfect, imperfect Richard! Slender and almost fragile, smiling, his wonderful grey eyes alight with all that he felt for her.

His lean, fine-boned face was as matchless as ever, and his hair was dark chestnut again, falling in those sensuous waves that always invited her playful, adoring fingers. She could only stare, still fearing he was imagined; that he was her intense love conjured into light, but lacking substance. Yet the red heart was pinned to his hat.

He gazed at her. “My dearest love, I have so yearned for this moment.”

She remained uncertain. “But, why . . . after all this time?” she whispered. “Is it that you have now had an honourable interment?”

“No, sweetheart, it is because you and Henry wished each other well and meant it in your hearts. That is all. You were sent tonight to understand and like each other. It was the hereafter’s chosen way to free me and open Bess’s eyes. All four of us, brought together forever on St Valentine’s Night.”

“Forever? You really will be allowed your second life now?” she ventured timidly.

“Forever, my beloved. Unless . . . maybe you don’t want me after all?” He was teasing, but she did not realise.

“Not want you? I will always want you! Everything that you are! Everything!” she cried.

Then she saw his loving smile, and something seemed to burst with joy inside her. She flung herself into his arms so fiercely that she almost knocked him over. His embrace enclosed her tightly, and she raised her lips to be kissed. Oh, such a kiss, so longed for and imagined countless times, so dreamed about and yearned for through centuries. And now, so well worth the waiting.

Her body felt as if it were melting, becoming one with his, and love keened wildly through them both. She was suddenly so ridiculously, foolishly, exhilaratingly alive again that those empty centuries might never have been. King Richard III and his queen were reunited, and eternity now stretched gloriously before them.

Midnight began to strike, and she realized they were beginning to fade as Henry and Bess had before them. For a moment her thoughts turned to that other king, and the warmth with which he had comforted her. She sent a thought to find its way to him. ”Thank you, Henry Tudor.”

His happy reply winged back. “No, thank you, Lady Anne.”

The following morning, when the CCTV cameras were checked, as they were every day, it was discovered that those in the vicinity of Richard’s likeness had ceased to operate half an hour before midnight, but then resumed as normal immediately after the last stroke of the hour. It was also found that the king’s hat adornment had somehow fallen.

A middle-aged female assistant unlocked the cabinet to restore the brooch to its proper place on the hat, pinning it with the same great care she knew she’d shown before. “That’s odd,” she murmured to the colleague with her.

“You can’t have put it on properly the first time,” the young blonde friend at her side responded, and then laughed. “Or perhaps there was an earthquake.”

“The alarms would have gone off,” the first woman pointed out practically.

The other rolled her eyes. “It was a joke. I know Leicester isn’t the earthquake capital of the world,” she replied.

“Oh. Anyway, I’m not talking about the brooch having fallen, more that I feel sure there’s something different about him this morning.”

The other pursed her lips and tilted her head to study the model. “What do you mean? He looks the same as always to me. Must have been a tasty man in life, eh?” She laughed.

“What I mean is that he no longer seems to be inside.”

“Don’t be daft. He never was, poor chap.”

“No, I suppose not.”

The friend glanced at her watch. “I’m late! See you later.”

“Yes. Bye for now.” The first woman continued to look at the model’s handsome but inscrutable face. “You have gone, haven’t you, Richard?” she whispered. “Oh, I’ll miss you so much.” With a sigh, she adjusted the hat fondly, and then locked the cabinet again.

Advertisements

The Royal martyr

If you wish to visit the site of a heresy execution or a memorial to a victim in England and Wales, there are several options, most of which date from Mary I’s reign. Aldham Common in Hadleigh commemorates the town’s Rector, Rowland Tayler. Oxford marks an Archbishop, Cranmer, together with Bishops Latimer and Ridley, whilst their episcopal colleagues Hooper and Ferrar met their fate at Gloucester and Carmarthen respectively. There were also several hundred laymen, before and during her time, but all of them were commoners.
Scotland is sligPatrick_Hamiltonhtly different in this respect. Patrick Hamilton (left), born in about 1504, was burned outside St. Salvador’s Chapel (below) at St. Andrews in February 1527-8, as an early exponent of Luther’s reforms. He was a great-grandson of James II and thus the cousin once removed of the young James V, whose personal reign began that year. Like Cranmer, Tayler and a few others, Hamilton was legally married.

ST MARY’S CHURCH, FAIRFORD: ROYAL PORTRAITS

600Fairford-0010.jpg

St Mary’s, Fairford, Gloucestershire.  ‘A complete and perfect Perpendicular church’  and famous for it fine collection of medieval glass.

Described in Betjeman’s Best British Churches as ‘a complete and perfect Perpendicular’ church(1) this beautiful wool church was rebuilt by John Tame, a wool merchant from Gloucester , in the late 15th Century to replace a much older church.  The tower had already been rebuilt by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and Lord of the manor around 1430.  St Mary’s possesses a complete set of medieval stained glass, amongst the finest in England and it is this glass that I want to focus on now.  The glass was made between 1500 and 1517 and, other than the west window, which was severely damaged in a storm in 1703 and later restored, the glass has somehow miraculously survived, although how this has happened remains a mystery.  It has been suggested it has survived because of the royal portraits contained in them. The windows are thought to have been a gift from Henry Vll himself.  It should be remembered that when Henry had the young Edward Earl of Warwick executed in 1499 he seized his estates which included Fairford.  It has also been suggested that Henry may have then given the manor to Prince Arthur whose badge of ostrich feathers and motto appear in some of the windows and one of the portraits is thought to have been modelled up his wife, Katherine of Aragon.  Thirty years after Arthur’s death Henry Vlll presented Fairford manor to Katherine of  Aragon after he had divested her of her title of queen.  The portraits are mostly members of the Tudor royal family and influential people in the Tudor court  although one of them is thought to be of a Plantagenet, that of Henry’s brother-in-law, the young Edward of Westminster, one of the ‘princes in the Tower’   Other portraits were modelled on Henry himself, obviously, his wife Elizabeth of York, Catherine of Aragon, Prince Arthur, Henry’s  daughters Mary and Margaret and a young Henry Vlll and last but not least Margaret Beaufort (2)   I also think its possible that one of them is based on Richard lll, but that is purely my own speculation.

IMG_0635.JPG

Nave, north aisle, north Window.  The figure of the Queen of Sheba is believed to be a likeness of Elizabeth of York

Jesus in the temple henry Vlll.png

Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, North window.  Jesus as a small boy in the temple modelled on a young Henry Vlll possibly.

image037.jpg

Holbein’s sketch of Henry Vlll as a child to compare IMG_3802.JPG

Nave,north aisle, west window.  The figure of Solomon is thought to have been modelled on Edward of Westminster, one of the ‘princes in the Tower’ and brother to Elizabeth of York

 

FullSizeRender.jpg

Nave, north aisle, west window.  Could this figure be Morton? It has been described as Wolsey but I disagree.  

bere-morton.jpg

A wooden boss on the roof of Bere Regis church thought to represent Morton in comparison.

FullSizeRender copy.jpg

Chancel, south chapel, Corpus Christi Chapel, east window.  This version of the Virgin Mary is believed to have been modelled on Mary Tudor, Henry Vll’s daughter.   See picture below to compare likenesses.

 1496_Mary_Tudor.jpg

A portrait of Mary Tudor to compare to her likeness in the above portrait of her at Fairford.

 

henry.png

Nave, West Window.  The figure with the crown is thought to be that of Henry Vll entering Heaven.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, north window.  The Magus is believed to have been modelled on Prince Arthur.

IMG_3790.JPG

Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, north window.  Two royal likenesses here.  It it thought that the Virgin Mary was modelled after Catherine of Aragon while that of the attendant with the doves is modelled on Margaret Tudor, Henry Vll’s daughter.  Could the lady in red be modelled on Margaret Beaufort?

IMG_3770.JPG

Two kings here..Henry Vl on the left and Henry Vll on the right.

FullSizeRender 3.jpg

Purely my speculation here but could the warrior holding the severed head be a Tudor representation of King Richard lll?  For surely one shoulder has been depicted higher than the other one! 

I am  indepted to the excellent Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi  online for these images

(1) Sir John Betjeman, updated by Richard Surman, Betjeman’s Best British Churches p.270

(2) Sir Nickolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Gloucestershire 1. The Cotswolds, p367 

JAMES 1st – A ROYAL GOOSEBERRY

fullsizerender-2

Entrance to the tomb of Henry Vll as seen on the opening of the vault in 1869.  Drawing by George Scarf.  

How did James I come to be interred in Henry Vll’s vault?  Unfortunately it’s not known,  but we do know how it was discovered to be the case.  In 1868, Dean Stanley’s attention was drawn to conflicting reports of  the whereabouts of James’ and his Queen, Anne of Denmark’s vault.    Recognising the importance of ‘the knowledge of the exact spots where the illustrious dead repose’ (1) Dean Stanley resolved to get to the bottom of it.

Stanley,-Dean-portrait-72-Westminster-Abbey-copyright-photo.jpg

Dean Stanley

Although it had been noted  by one brief line in the Abbey’s register that James had been buried in Henry’s vault, ‘This was not enough for  Dean Stanley.  He loved exploring and he pursuaded himself that he must first eliminate all other possible places by opening up each of the Royal vaults in turn’ (2).  Vault after vault was opened, some were empty, some crammed full.  The coffins were discovered of a multitude of royal and noble personages including Mary, Queen of Scots (Dean Stanley thought James might have been interred with his mother),  Mary Tudor and her sister Elizabeth, the latter ‘s coffin on top of the other, Edward Vl, the numerous children of James II and of Queen Anne, and many others too numerous to mention here.  The vault of Anne of Denmark was also found, her coffin standing alone besides the empty space where James, her husband, should have been.  Where was he?

414px-James_I_of_England_by_Daniel_Mytens.jpg

James lst painted by Daniel Mytens

Laurence Tanner, Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian,  Westminster Abbey,  wrote ‘Night after night the Dean with a few of the Abbey staff was able to carry out his self-imposed task undisturbed.  On one occasion the historian Froude was present.  Speaking of it afterward he said ‘it was the weirdest scene – the flaming torches, the banners waving from the draught of air, and the Dean’s keen, eager face seen in profile had the very strangest effect.  He asked me to return with him the next night, but my nerves had had enough of it’.  (3)

At last, with nowhere else left to look, the actual vault of Henry was opened and to the Dean’s surprise, if not perhaps to that of others, James was found!  It was discovered on examination of the lead coffins therein , that Elizabeth’s had been slightly damaged at the top, possibly when it was removed to allow James’ in and then she was replaced, being rather squashed into the space between the two kings.  Its easy to imagine Henry spinning in his  coffin, as, after the enormous expense of his funeral, he and his Queen are now sharing their tomb with a gooseberry, albeit a royal one.  And here they are…

Henry-VII,-Elizabeth-and-James-I-bodies-in-vault-72-Westminster-Abbey-copyright-photo-1.jpg

 

  1. Dean Stanley, Westminster Abbey, p.651
  2. Laurence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary, p.177
  3. Laurence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary, p.177

 

 

YORK OR LANCASTER: WHO WAS THE RIGHTFUL KING OF ENGLAND?

Part 2 – For a kingdom any oath may be broken – York’s title 1460

 

Introduction

This is an essay about the legitimacy of the duke of York’s title to the English crown. I am not going to delve into the duke’s motive for claiming the crown, or into the details of the rebellion that led to his claim. I have covered both these issues in previous posts on this site[1].

Who was the true king of England: the Lancastrian Henry VI or his cousin Richard duke of York? That was the question uppermost in the minds of the lords spiritual and temporal in parliament in the autumn of 1460.[2] They were debating this question because: “…In October the duke of York came over from Ireland to Westminster at the beginning of parliament and as soon as he had entered the upper chamber of the royal palace, where the lords spiritual and temporal were sitting, he approached the royal throne and claimed the seat as his own; he put forward an account of his descent from Lionel duke of Clarence, to whose successors, he said, the kingdom of England belonged, since he was the elder, rather than to the descendants of John duke of Lancaster, the younger brother from whom king Henry was descended.[3] It was a claim as dramatic as it was unexpected and parliament was fully occupied for three weeks discussing the duke’s lineage and his rights.

The outcome of their discussion was so disconcerting to the anonymous author of

‘A Short Latin Chronicle’ that he lapsed into English when writing about it: ”Wherefore the king understanding the said title of the said duke [to be] just, lawful, and true and sufficient by the advice and assent of his Lords spiritual and temporal and the commons in the parliament and by the authority of the same parliament, approves, ratifies, confirms and accepts the said title (as) just, good, lawful and thereunto gives his assent and agreement of his free will and liberty. And moreover it is said by advice and authority, declared, called, established, affirmed, and reputed that the said Richard duke of York (is) very true and rightful heir to the crown of England and France.”[4] Everything is in the duke’s favour except the outcome. His title to the throne is thrice lawful; the Lancastrians are thrice usurpers. Nonetheless, York is not to be crowned until after Henry is dead. It was a recipe for disaster.

York was ten years older than Henry and statistically, at least, unlikely to outlive him. More importantly, the queen and her disinherited son were still at large with an armed force, embittered and well able to oppose this Act of Accord. Not for the first time, nor for the last, an English parliament had managed to make a bad situation worse. The only royal settlement likely to subsist now was one settled on a battlefield. Moreover, the Act of Accord presents a constitutional conundrum. If parliament judged York’s title to be unbeatable, why did they not give effect to their judgment? And, if York believed in the truth and justice of his title, why did he agree to bend his knee to the usurping Henry? The answers to these questions lie in the politics of the day.

York’s Petition

York submitted his written claim on the 16 October 1460[5]. It had the virtue of simplicity, being based solely on his hereditary right of succession. The only evidence adduced was York’s lineage. The main thrust of his case was that in 1399, when king Richard II was deposed, Henry of Lancaster seized the throne, which more properly belonged to Edmund Mortimer earl of March who was descended (through his grandmother Philippa) from Lionel duke of Clarence the third son of king Edward III; whereas, Henry of Lancaster was descended from John duke of Lancaster the king’s fourth son.

The Lords’ objections

The king, who was consulted next day, requested the lords to state objections to Yorks claim.[6] The lords prevaricated. They asked the king’s justices for advice. The justices declined to give it on the grounds that the succession was above the common law, and beyond their jurisdiction and competence. The sergeants-at-law also refused to give their counsel; they argued that if the succession was too weighty for the king’s justices, it was surely above the sergeants’ learning and authority. It seems that only those of the blood royal, and the lords spiritual and temporal were qualified to solve this problem. Freedom of speech was allowed and each lord was to put forward whatever he could to strengthen the king’s title and to defeat York’s. Eventually, five objections were raised:

  • First, the lords were bound to remember the great oaths of fealty that they had sworn to the king. These oaths argued against York’s claim since they could not be broken.
  • Second, the great and noble acts of parliament (unspecified) made in various earlier parliaments could be used against York’s title. Being statutes, these acts carried far more authority than any chronicle and defeated any claim made by any person.
  • Third, similarly, the various entails (again unspecified) made by the heirs male with regard to the crown of England argued against Yorks title, as may appear in various chronicles and parliaments
  • Fourth, York did not bear the arms of Lionel duke of Clarence; and
  • Fifth, Henry succeeded to the throne as the heir of king Henry III, and not as a conqueror

 

York’s response to the objections

The matter of oaths was important, which is why it was the first objection. Although it did not go directly to the merit of York’s title, it was a considerable barrier to the success of his claim. The lords were concerned about two things. First, their own oaths of allegiance to Henry as king “by succession, borne to reign” and to his son Prince Edward, which they had sworn less than twelve months previously at Coventry. Second, they were reminding York of his own oaths of allegiance and obedience, and many protestations of loyalty made to the king over the last decade. The breaking of these oaths was not merely a religious impropriety; it was sinfulness, the breaking of God’s law. To be forsworn was to court eternal damnation.

York responded in kind. He acknowledged every man’s duty to uphold God’s law and Commandments. However, he distinguished between oaths that preserve truth and justice and oaths that promote untruth and injustice. The first kind is obedient to Gods law, which prefers truth and justice; whereas, the second kind is contrary to God’s law. Moreover, since no man can absolve himself from obedience to God’s law to uphold truth and justice and since the oaths referred to by the lords are of the second kind, they are void and of no effect. An oath of allegiance does not bind a man to do anything unfitting or unlawful.

Despite the spiritual views expressed by both sides, Yorks final sentence contained an unmistakable temporal message for the king and his lords. It was a principle York had expressed in an open letter to the king just before first St Albans (1455). Whilst emphasizing, yet again, that he and his followers are the king’s true liegemen ready to live and die in his service he added “…to do all things as shall like your majesty to command us, if it be to the worship of the crown and the welfare of your noble realm (my emphasis).” York was putting conditions on his loyalty and obedience. He was making an important distinction between the institution of ‘the crown’ and the person of the king, and between them both and the rights of the realm. The implication is that although ‘royal authority’ is vested personally in the king, he must behave in accordance with the accepted norms of English monarchs as expressed in the coronation oath that binds them all. York is also introducing the concept of the ‘realm’ of England as a political entity distinct from the monarchy. It has its own rights to which the crown is ultimately responsible. This was more than just a device to protect him from accusations of treason or ‘oath-breaking’; it represents a fundamental tenet of England’s constitution, which we see put most forcibly in Magna Carta.

The second and third objections raise a significant constitutional issue. The key question is whether the Act of 1406, which gave statutory recognition to Henry IV’s title, was the final authority on the issue of succession. The lords obviously thought so, since they argued that it was of an “ authority to defeat any kind of title made to any person”. Having pointed out correctly that the only statute or entail made by any parliament in the past was the Act of 1406, York based his case on two mutually supporting grounds. First, if Henry IV’s title were valid as claimed, he would neither have needed nor wanted statutory recognition of it. Second, his own title being true according to God’s law and natural law was imperishable, even though it had not been asserted earlier. Henry’s title, however, was pretense and in passing the statute, parliament had recognized a title that Henry was not entitled to. The Inheritance Act of 1406 was, therefore, ultra vires. From a constitutional perspective, this was an important development; the theory of a parliamentary title was being subordinated to a theory that God’s law of inheritance determined the succession. York was not impugning the authority of statutes generally; he was simply saying that even though a statute (or an entail) might be binding in normal circumstances, it could not stand against his divine right of inheritance[7].

On the fourth objection that York did not wear the livery of his ancestor Lionel, his answer was predictable. The fact that he didn’t wear that livery did not mean he was not entitled to. He did not wear it for the same reason he had forborn from claiming the crown earlier, and which reason was well known.

The last objection was that Henry took the throne as the rightful heir to Henry III and not as conqueror[8]. York rejected this objection outright. It is simply not true, he said, that Henry IV was the lawful heir to Henry III “…and the opposite, which is the truth shall be readily enough shown, proved and justified by adequate authority and as a matter of record”. He added that Henry’s words were fraudulent and meant to disguise his “…violent and unlawful usurpation” from the people.

The Act of Accord

The Official account of the lords’ “sad and ripe communicacion in this matere[9] is brief but illuminating. The tension at Westminster is palpable. Under pressure from York to bring the matter to a rapid conclusion, the Chancellor seems on the verge of panic. He is desperate for a result that will reconcile York’s ‘unbeatable’ title with the lords corporate obligation to protect the common weal of the realm, their personal duty to king Henry and their consciences. The Chancellor proposed that Henry should retain the crown during his lifetime and when he dies, York should succeed him. It is, the Chancellor suggests, a resolution that avoids the trouble that might ensue, saves the king’s honour, preserves his dignity and estate, and may appease the duke of York — if he agrees! It also means the lords will not have broken the oaths they swore to the king at Coventry. The Chancellors plaintive call for anybody with a better idea to come forward is testament to his despair; as also, is his plea that the lords should stand by him when he explains the situation to the king. For want of something better, the lords readily agree to this outcome.

In truth, there was no appetite to depose a crowned and anointed king who had reigned for thirty-eight years, no matter how grave were his faults[10]. Although the lords sympathized with York’s predicament, they regarded his claim as inopportune. Notwithstanding the legality of his title, he was unable to overcome fifteenth century realpolitik. It was further confirmation that the succession was a political and not a legal process. For the lords the overriding consideration was to preserve the peace of the realm. It is a consideration that ordinarily would protect them from accusations of inconsistency and bad faith; however, in reality they were simply evading the issue and not solving the problem. Only the complete destruction of the Queen’s party or the Yorkists had any hope of procuring an effective peace. Furthermore, the disinheritance of the Prince of Wales guaranteed the continuance of war.

The historical opinion of York’s behaviour is unforgiving. At the time, the Lancastrians depicted him as a hypocrite whose claim to the crown was based on personal ambition and not on the common interest. Many modern historians endorse that view and it is easy to understand why. He swore at least two oaths of allegiance to the king and one of allegiance and obedience, and he made numerous declarations of his loyalty; yet in the end, he tried to depose Henry. York’s integrity can only be defended by examining his motives, which is outside my scope. Therefore, I will not comment on these accusations save to add a health warning. Most, if not all, of this opinion is derived from Lancastrian propaganda. The Yorkist counter-claims are clearly set out in the many political manifestos they produced during the 1450’s. These contained Yorkist propaganda for sure, but a balanced view of what was happening is only possible by considering both sides of the argument.

That said, I do believe that York’s action in accepting the Act of Accord, and his motive for so doing have been misconstrued by some historians. Parliament, it seems, is absolved from acting inconsistently or in bad faith because they moved to preserve the peace; whereas York is denounced for doing the same thing.[11] It is a strange judgment that simultaneously acquits the lords and convicts York for keeping the peace.

He had “taken the moral high ground and promptly compromised” writes John Watts, adding that “under the terms of his own argument, Duke Richard could not bind himself to the deferment of his right during Henry’s lifetime: any oath to do so would be contrary to God’s law and hence null and void.” The professor adds with a flourish “what true king would agree to be subject to a usurper?[12] The notion that York was prevented from accepting the Act of Accord since, on his own argument, it was untruthful and contrary to God’s law, is a shallow one. It ignores the reality of York’s situation and does his argument on the matter of oaths a disservice. The succession cannot be considered in the vacuum of religious doctrine, moral rectitude or personal right. It is, I repeat, a political process, not a legal or religious one. From York’s perspective, this action had been forced on him by constitutional system that made it impossible for him to protest against the excesses of a corrupt and incompetent Lancastrian regime and the breakdown in law and order, without committing treason. York’s cause of action had never been against the king, but against those household servant and royal favourites who abrogated royal authority.

For ten years York championed the cause of good governance in the common interest but he had achieved nothing, other than a reputation as an incorrigible rebel. This was the opportunity to put both the will and the means for good governance in one person. There is no discord between his argument on oaths and his acceptance of a compromise. Whilst the Act of Accord fell short of his objective, it commanded the most support and was self evidently in the common interest. It would indeed have been contrary to God’s law for York to insist on the strict letter of his right at this time and against the wishes of the English lords. He realized he lacked the broad spectrum of support necessary to depose Henry. The change from being the king’s true liegeman to wanting to replace him was too much too soon even for many of York’s supporters. The fact that this desire for a peaceful outcome was futile is neither here nor there from York’s perspective. Since he could do nothing to guarantee the pacification of Lancastrian dissidence, he could at least ensure his own good intentions.

Ultimately, York’s challenge ended in failure. A successful strategy depended on speed and surprise ‘…a speedy coronation; the swift removal of Henry…’[13] Once York was forced to claim the throne rather than seize it, his enemies had time to concert their opposition to him. However, by establishing the superiority of his title over the Lancastrians, York paved the way for his son Edward to seize the throne in 1461.

[1] See Richard 3rd duke of York (2) ‘The king’s true liegeman’ – 10 February 2015; and (3) ‘The man who would be king’ 8 March 2015 https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/

[2] Chris Given-Wilson (Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Anne Curry and Rosemary Horrox (Eds) Volume 12 pp. 509-510 (introduction) and 516 to 521 (PROME). York claimed the throne on the 10 October 1460. His written petition to parliament was read aloud on the 16 October 1460. It was the petition that the Lords spiritual and temporal were considering.

[3] Nicholas Cox and John Cox – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p111.

[4] James Gairdner- Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles (The Camden Society 1880) pp.170-71; the full title of the ‘Latin chronicle’ is ‘Compilatio de gestus Britonum et Anglorum’ (MS Arundel 5 College of Arms).

[5] PROME Vol 12, ibid: see also Margaret Lucille Kekewich et al (eds.) – The Politics of Fifteenth Century England: John Vale’s Book (Allan Sutton Publishing 1995) p 195 (ff.130v–134/111v–115. The title and claim of the crown by Richard duke of York in the 39th year of king Henry VI))

[6] PROME Vol 12, ibid; the lords spiritual and temporal were commanded to find “…the strongest objections to defend the king’s right and title and to defeat the title and claim of the said duke of York.”

[7] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.27-30. This paragraph is based on Professor Chrimes’ lucid and succinct explanation, which has stood the test of time.

[8] The lords were wrong; Henry also claimed the throne as conqueror.

[9] PROME Vol 12; ibid

[10] Unlike, the deposition of Edward II, and the deposition of Richard II, there was no case against Henry VI of willful incompetence or tyranny. In fact he seems to have been a good, almost saintly, man personally. A regency government could have adequately managed during his periodic spells of mental infirmity.

[11] PROME, Vol 12 p 524. It is quite clear from the Parliamentary Roll that York accepted the compromise to preserve the peace.

[12] John Watts – Polemic and Politics in the 1450’s; Margaret Lucille Kekewich et al (Eds) – The Politics of Fifteenth Century England: John Vale’s Book (Allan Sutton Publishing 1995) at page 34; see also P A Johnson – Duke Richard of York 1411-1460 (Oxford1991 corrected edition) pp. 212-219.

[13] Watts at p35.

Jack Cade and the Mortimer connection….

Reid, Stephen, 1873-1948; The Parliament of Henry VI at Reading Abbey, 1453

A Parliament of Henry VI

In the summer of 1450, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, threw in his appointments in Ireland to return to England to assert his rights as heir to the throne of the inept Lancastrian king, Henry VI. The ensuing confrontation with poor Henry, who really was too gentle to be king, led to Parliament being called for 6th November, 1450.

From then began the relentless slide into the thirty years of civil strife, now known as the Wars of the Roses. And the event that prompted York’s return was, I believe, the Kent rebellion of that summer, led by a mysterious figure known to us as Jack Cade.

 

whon was Jack CadeBefore I go on, it is necessary to explain York’s strong claim, which came through two sons of Edward III. One was Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, who was Edward’s fourth surviving son. The other—much more importantly—was Edward’s second son, Lionel, 1st Duke of Clarence, albeit through Lionel’s daughter and only child, Philippa. She married Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, and their children therefore had a strong claim to the throne. Lionel’s was the premier surviving branch. His elder brother, the Black Prince, only produced Richard II, who died childless. The only trouble was, Philippa was not a man. If she had been, the whole matter of the succession would have been cut and dried.York Claim to ThroneSo the blood of Lionel’s daughter Philippa was far senior to that of the children of Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt, from whom descended the line of Lancastrian kings that had usurped the throne from Richard II in the first place.

Richard II condemned as a tyrant surrenders the crown & sceptre to his cousin Bolingbroke

Richard II , a prisoner wearing black, surrenders the crown to his Lancastrian cousin Bolingbroke, who is usurping the throne  as Henry IV.

So, Richard, Duke of York, had the blood of Lionel and Edmund, 2nd and 4th sons of Edward III, whereas the Lancastrians had the blood of Gaunt, the third son. All in all, York rightly considered himself to have the superior claim. And he pushed for recognition.

 

Henry VI was not unpopular in himself, he was too mild and pious for that, but his government, his queen and her favourite, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Oxford (widely suspected of being the queen’s lover and the father of boy born suspiciously long after the royal marriage) were exceedingly unpopular. There was no justice for any man unless he had influence, and influence was mostly corrupt and ruthless. The Lancastrian government and its friends rode roughshod over the people, and conspired to see the troublesome York appointed Lieutenant of Ireland, safely out of the way.

Then at the end of May 1450, along came Jack Cade, who was also known as John Amend-All, on account of his rallying cries that he would right all the many wrongs committed by Henry VI’s regime. But he called himself John Mortimer, and as Captain of Kent began rousing the men of that county to march on London. Cade’s army at one point numbered 40,000 men, so it was not a meagre little uprising that didn’t warrant much attention. Declaring that he was the Captain of Kent, Cade even held London, and on his way to take possession is said to have passed the London Stone in Cannon Street, which he struck with his sword and proclaimed that now Mortimer was lord of the capital.

Jack Cade strikes the London Stone

Jack Cade strikes the London Stone

By choosing the name Mortimer, he conjured York to people’s minds. Mortimer indicated the premier right to the crown of England, and Cade was pushing the fact. So…who was he? An agent of the Duke of York come to claim his crown? Or a real Mortimer—the line of which was believed extinct—come to follow his own destiny?

 

A real Mortimer was what Cade claimed to be, presumably from the wrong side of the blanket. The last Mortimer Earl of March was Edmund, the 5th Earl, who died in 1425. Edmund married a daughter of Owain Glyndŵr in 1402—was Cade the result of this union? If so, he was descended from Llewellyn the Great. He also had a claim not only to the title and lands of the Mortimers, but to the throne now occupied by Henry VI.

According to The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, there was at around that time, i.e. 1425, an enigmatic Welsh poet named Sion O’Caint, which translates as ‘John of Kent’”. John Cade? Caeade (pronounced Cade) means ‘covered over’ in Welsh. Was it a play on words that actually referred to ‘covered over’ or hidden Mortimer blood? Did this Sion O’Caint have anything whatsoever to do with Cade? Who can say?

Was the Duke of York involved up to this point? He does not seem to have been, even though his Yorkist followers clearly regarded Cade’s cause as their own. Among the articles and requests Cade submitted to the king was a demand for the return  to England of the Duke of York, and by now it was clear that many of the king’s men were in sympathy with the rebels. In fact, it was clear that a great part of the realm wanted York to come home.

Cade's rebellion

Cade’s Rebellion

Over the following days there were disturbances and deaths, both noble and common, and among those executed at Whitechapel was one John Bailey, who was “supposed to have known too much about [Cade’s] antecedents”. His head was displayed on London Bridge. Then the government fought back and there was a full-scale attack on London Bridge, which was held by the rebels.

Jack Cade

Cade cuts the drawbridge ropes

The struggle went on all night, until the Bishop of Winchester, William of Waynflete, sought an armistice. He had a meeting with Cade, and offered pardons—Cade’s was to be under the name John Mortimer.

 

This was to spell the end, because under the name John/Jack Cade, he was still a hunted man. He was pursued and mortally wounded, dying when being conveyed back to London. His body was exhibited for identification, and then quartered and beheaded. The head was exhibited on London Bridge, probably while John Bailey’s was still there.

Death of Jack Cade

The death of Jack Cade

What was it about Cade’s background that Bailey might have known? We will never know.

 

Meanwhile, in Ireland, the Duke of York had been following events with great interest, and was very well aware that the country had risen for the name Mortimer. The time had come for him to assert himself, and his rightful claims. So he left Ireland and came to London.

The rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

 

1066: THE YEAR OF THREE KINGS

“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days”

(Winston Churchill)

 

“I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.”

(Catherine Morland on ‘history’ – Northanger Abbey)

 

Prologue

In the summer of 1066 William the Bastard, seventh duke of Normandy, prepared to launch and king Harold II to repel an invasion of England. William was coming, or so he said, to take the English throne that was promised to him by the late King Edward and to punish Harold for his perjury for breaking his oath of fealty to the duke. At the same time, the Norwegian king Harald Sigurdsson (Hadradi–‘the ruthless’) was also planning to invade England with the same intention of seizing the English crown, which he claimed was his by right of a promise made by king Harthacnut to the king of Norway. Meanwhile, King Harold assembled the largest army England had ever known to defend the south coast opposite Normandy against the invasion he expected to come from across the English Channel. As summer gave way to autumn and William had still not come, the concentration of English land and naval forces became problematic since they could no longer be victualed and their temper was uncertain. The fleet, which was stationed off the Isle of Wight, was therefore ordered to sail for London and the army stood down. It was undoubtedly a setback for King Harold, which was made worse by the surprise news of an invasion in the north: not by Normans but by Northmen.

 

In early September, the contrary wind that had kept William’s ships in port, swept Harald Hadradi’s fleet across the North Sea to land on the northeast coast of England. Hadradi came with between six and eight thousand Viking warriors in three hundred ships. Reinforced from Scotland by Harold’s estranged younger brother Tostig, the Vikings met and defeated a Northumbrian army at Fulford, and captured York.[1] Harold, having hastily reassembled his army, forced-marched them north as soon as possible; on the 25 September at Stamford Bridge near York he surprised and defeated the Norse invaders. At the end of a vicious no-quarter battle the gigantic frame of Harald Hadradi, the most fearsome warrior in Christendom, lay dead in the field together with Tostig and ninety per cent of the Viking force. The survivors were so few they were allowed to sail back to Norway in twenty-four ships.[2] The battle of Stamford Bridge marked the end of Viking power in the North Sea and two centuries of conflict with the English. It also bought honour and disaster in equal measure to the last of the old English kings. Four days later, the Norman army landed unopposed at Pevensey Bay, Sussex.

 

Harold was probably at York on the 1 October when he heard the news of William’s landing. In what was by any standard an impressive military achievement, he had resettled the north, re-organised his army and force-marched them 200 miles to London by the 6 October; once there he ordered the Fyrd to assemble for a battle against William. Two days after leaving London, Harold was approaching the battlefield near Hastings. Next day the 14 October 1066 the two sides met in perhaps the most decisive battle fought on British soil. The battle of Hastings is generally depicted as a classic English infantry battle. The men standing stoically behind their shield wall repelling repeated assaults by Breton infantry and Norman cavalry. It was a bitter fight, which lasted all day; but eventually, the English were undone by indirect fire. A chance arrow fired over the shield wall found its mark in king Harold. Whether it killed the king instantly or disabled him is immaterial since he was very quickly hacked to pieces where he lay. Soon after, the English shield wall, being much reduced, was overwhelmed[3]. Within two months, William was crowned King William I of England. The Norman Conquest was a defining moment in history. It bought an end to the old Anglo-Danish kingdom of England and changed the history of Christendom. Henceforth, English attention was focused south towards the Latin world and not north to the Nordic one.

 

The period between 1042 and 1066 is veiled in a mist of legend and half-truths in which fact has become almost indistinguishable from fiction. Penetrating this mist to learn the truth about the years leading up to the Conquest is no easy matter for three good reasons: first, the passage of time, second the nature and relative scarcity of contemporary chronicles, and third because I am conscious of Miss Morland’s stricture that much of what we call history is invention. Nor should I ignore Winston Churchill’s memorable description of the historians’ burden, from a speech given in 1940 when Britain faced a greater existential threat from across the Channel. Later scholars have echoed Churchill’s meaning, albeit with less eloquence. Professor Frank Barlow makes the point rather better than most: “To write a history of Edward (the Confessor) and his reign (1042-66), we have to scrape the barrel with care; every scrap of information is precious… Any historical reconstruction must be a personal creation, and the scarcer and more untrustworthy the evidence the greater the artifice. The facts simply do not speak for themselves. Nor can facts and the historian’s contribution be separated. A history is not made of bricks and mortar. The historian does his best and writes in good faith. He meets uncertainty at every turn and offers his solution. Sometimes, the only course that he can honestly follow is to offer several equally plausible possibilities between which he cannot decide. He has to steer between bland assurances for which he has no warrant, and complete scepticism, which denies his craft.”[4]

 

More recently, Dr Michael Lawson has focused on the practicability of extracting the truth from the available material, which he likens to a jigsaw with pieces missing and without a picture as a guide. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that (to continue Lawson’s metaphor) we are dealing with puzzle pieces from different jigsaws. What students of the Norman Conquest have to work with are two incompatible versions of history: the Norman narrative and the English narrative, neither of which prove anything.[5]

 

According to the Norman narrative, William never did a bad thing or fought an unjust war. He was promised the English throne by a grateful King Edward and denied it by the treacherous Harold. However virtuous the Normans may have thought William was and regardless of whether they actually believed he was promised the English crown, the reality is that the duke of Normandy made no impression on the English chroniclers. His activities obviously did not affect them and there is absolutely no suggestion in the contemporary English sources that Edward ever considered duke William, or any foreigner, as heir to his throne. Insofar as king Edward nominated a successor, he only ever considered Englishmen.

 

Historians have been trying since the early twelfth century to interpret the Norman Conquest in the context of these contrasting historical narratives. Their general opinion is that the Norman sources can be accepted despite their faults for want of anything to disprove them. The passage of time has seen the emergence of a number of different theories, which for the most part are little more than variations of the traditional narratives. William may be presented as a little less virtuous and Harold as a little more so, but the pro-Norman opinion is broadly intact. Lately, however, a school of thought has emerged that challenges the traditional Norman narrative. Modern historians seem more disposed to criticise Norman sources for being partial, and spreading propaganda intended to justify the Norman Conquest and to placate a critical Pope. There is even a modern insinuation that the whole thing was a monumental misunderstanding, which was caused by a renegade Norman cleric called Robert Champart former abbot of Jumiéges, who misled William into thinking that King Edward had bequeathed the English crown to him. It was untrue, of course, but the duke believed it implicitly.

 

To an objective observer, none of these theories is convincing or complete, since none explain the inter-relationships between England’s three kings in 1066: Edward the Confessor, Harold II and William I. Their inter-personal relations are the ‘hidden history’ that traverses this period; that, between Edward and William being of singular importance: “With both Edward and William, so much was taking place within their minds and the minds of others that the roots of the drama are ultimately unknowable. The thread that runs through everything is Edward and William’s personal relationship, a story during which nothing discernable happened for years on end, yet, which was constantly ongoing. That they met only once between 1041 and 1066 should give pause for thought.”[6]

 

It is regrettable that efforts to resolve this evidential conundrum have divided historical opinion and unwittingly diverted the historiography of the Conquest from its proper course. Instead of enlightening us, it has become in professor Bates words a ‘barrier to the truth’.[7] It seems, therefore, that to understand the Norman Conquest one first has to understand the history of its historiography. Since it is ridiculous to think that I can solve mysteries that have puzzled scholars for centuries, I will not try to do so. In this article, I am focused on what I believe are the important issues: the relationship between the three kings, Edward’s ‘promise’ and Harold’s ‘oath’. These are the elements that I believe form the basis of William’s claim to the English crown and his justification for the Conquest. But first things first: I need to start with a brief explanation of the sources I have used.

 

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle et al

The main contemporary English source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC).[8] Written in English, the ASC is a series of seven separate manuscript annals of English history from the late ninth to the mid twelfth centuries. They were probably copied from a common source (now lost) and completed at different monasteries each with its local interest, priorities and political bias. Historians have always treated the seven manuscripts as one chronicle; though for convenience, each is designated by a letter: Ã, A, B, C, D, E and F. My interest is in manuscripts C, D and E, which cover this period of the eleventh century. In view of the number of manuscripts and the regional variations, the ASC contains errors of fact and chronology.[9] Nevertheless, these faults notwithstanding, it has great historical value as the relevant parts were written contemporaneously, without the benefit of hindsight or the necessity to explain the Norman Conquest.

 

My other primary English source is the Vita Edwardi Regis (the ‘Vita’), which was written in about 1066 by an anonymous Flemish monk for king Edward’s queen Edith. Its express purpose is to glorify her father earl Godwin of Wessex, and her siblings Harold and Tostig. Consequently, the Vita is prone to exaggerate their role and importance during the period concerned. Broadly, the Vita’s message is that king Edward and his kingdom prospered whilst he was being advised and mentored by earl Godwin and his sons.. The Vita makes use of a lost original of manuscript E and provides a few facts not in the ASC. However, its bias and the author’s relative ignorance of English history, reduces its evidential value. It should be used cautiously, even though it is a useful balance to hostile Norman accounts.[10] There are also references to twelfth century historians in my text. I have used these selectively where I believe they add value to this piece. Anglo-Norman chroniclers such as Florence of Worcester (also called John of Worcester), William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Orderic Vitalis and the Saxon monk Eadmer, wrote their histories within a hundred years of the conquest. They relied principally on the remnants of an oral tradition and the written sources, some of which are no longer extant. Naturally, they should be used cautiously since they are not contemporaneous and authors were writing under Norman hegemony. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to disregard them altogether since, as Professor Frank Barlow points out, ‘they may help’.

 

The Normans writers – William of Poitiers and William of Jumiéges

The Norman written narrative is contained in the works of William of Poitiers and William of Jumiéges. Poitiers (1020-1080) was a Norman knight turned cleric who served as duke William’s chaplain and accompanied him on campaign. He wrote ‘The Life of William Duke of Normandy and King of England’ (Gesta Willelmi ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum). It is by his own admission a long and detailed panegyrical account of the duke’s achievements. Poitiers missed no opportunity to exaggerate William’s virtues and Harold’s vices. Jumiéges (b 1000) was a Norman monk who wrote ‘The Life of the Duke of Normandy’ (Gesta Normannorum Ducum). It is a plain tale of the Norman victory over the ‘perfidious’ English. It lacks Poitiers’ embellishments and is generally regarded as the more reliable of the two sources. The fundamental weakness in the Norman narrative is that it did not emerge in written form until after the Conquest. Inevitably therefore, it has drawn criticism from suspicious scholars who regard it is as propaganda, concocted with the benefit of hindsight after the event to justify the Norman Conquest.

 

The Bayeux Tapestry

In his monumental six-volume history of the Norman Conquest, Edward Freeman held the Bayeux Tapestry to be the highest of the Norman authorities. His belief was founded on the way the Tapestry’s narrative unfolds. It is told from the Norman perspective but ” …with hardly any of the invention, exaggeration, or insinuation of the other Norman authorities.” [11] The Tapestry is without doubt a masterpiece of medieval narrative art and an important historical document. It records in pictorial form a course of events in England and Normandy between 1064 and 1066, and it has moulded our perception of the Norman Conquest in much the same way as a Shakespearean melodrama has for the life and reign of Richard III. So much has been written about the Tapestry since it was rediscovered in the early eighteenth century that it is impossible for me to do it justice in a paragraph or two. I will, therefore, confine myself to a couple of general but important observations. First, notwithstanding its artistic merit, the Tapestry is not art for art’s sake. Although its antecedents are uncertain, the bulk of modern scholarly opinion is that William’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, commissioned it between 1077 and 1082 as a public testament to William’s conquest of England but more particularly to glorify bishop Odo’s part therein. Traditionally it is regarded as a pro-Norman story of English oath breaking.[12]

 

My second point is that the storyline is not as simple as first thought; modern re-interpretations of the Tapestry bear witness to its complexity. One of the main problems is that observers can only interpret the tapestry from what they see. The images are not accompanied by adequate textual explanation or dialogue; furthermore, the text is confusing and possibly even misleading. There is, therefor, a natural tendency to interpret the Tapestry’s story by reference to the written works of Poitiers and Jumiéges, which results in its pro-Norman treatment. In the last fifty years, however, a different interpretation has emerged, as Professor Bates explains: “ Over recent decades, its allusive captions, often ambiguous imagery, and likely audience, its treatment less often as a source that tells the story of William’s triumph and more frequently as one that in significant respects echoes Eadmer and the Vita Edwardi Regis, together mean it is taken as a moral tale relevant to all the participants in the story.[13]

 

Dramatis personae

Edward Æthelredesson, the eldest son of the Saxon king Æthelrede and his second wife Emma of Normandy, was born at a time of great tribulation for the king his father and the Saxon people. The golden age of Anglo-Saxon England had long waned. The last decade of the tenth century and the first, of the eleventh saw a new wave of Viking raids from across the North Sea. King Æthelrede, who was not called the ‘unraede’ (ill-advised) for nothing, adopted a policy of appeasement. He paid the Norsemen to go away. It was a futile policy, which imposed an unpopular tax on the Saxon population without stopping the raids. Sensing Æthelrede’s weakness, Viking ambition turned from plunder to conquest. The Danish king Cnut invaded England in early 1016 bent on seizing the English throne; before the year’s end he had destroyed the royal Saxon house and was acknowledged king of all England by the Saxon thegns. Æthelrede was dead and his widow Emma fled to her native Normandy with their two sons Edward and Alfred. Although we know little of Edward’s life in Normandy the experience affected him profoundly in later life. He left England as a child and returned in his middle age. It will be necessary to deal with his treatment in the duchy in more detail later; for now, however, I wish only to draw attention to two contextual points.

 

First: even though England’s and Normandy had a close alliance at the turn of the eleventh century, it was not a love match but an alliance driven by force of circumstance and ballasted by Æthelrede’s marriage to Emma of Normandy in 1002.[14] Both sides were adversely affected by the resumption of Viking raiding and fearful of Scandinavian territorial ambition. From duke Richard’s perspective, Emma’s marriage secured a useful alliance that gave the duke some influence at the English court. Æthelrede’s death and Cnut’s succession did not affect this arrangement since almost immediately the duke offered Emma as a bride for her late husband’s antagonist. Emma married Cnut in 1017. She bore him one son, Harthacnut, who displaced Edward and Alfred from the English succession. The secure possession of the two English Æthelings (princes of the royal blood) was of great political and diplomatic importance to successive Norman dukes as pawns in their relations with England’s de facto Danish king. The alacrity, with which uncle Richard and their mother discarded the Æthelings’ cause in order to secure an alliance with Cnut, indicates that their value as political levers outweighed family sentiment. [15]

 

Second: there is no evidence other than what the Normans tell us that Edward felt any filial connection with his maternal relatives. It is true that he was treated honourably as a member of the ducal household; yet, he was kept in the background and his cause as the senior English Ætheling was not taken seriously until the Anglo-Norman alliance began to break down in the 1030’s; at which time, it suited the duke to use the threat posed by Edward’s Ætheling status as another control mechanism against Cnut

 

William the seventh duke of Normandy was the bastard son of duke Robert and his concubine Herleve. He inherited his ducal title at the age of seven in 1035 together with his birthright: “relations with England were…conditioned by an interconnection between the Duchy and the Kingdom, which had been formed before his birth.”[16] Of course, by 1035 that relationship had changed dramatically. The alliance with Cnut was worthless and duke Robert became increasingly involved in English affairs on the side of Edward and his younger brother Alfred. Theoretically, that policy continued after William became duke; in practice, however, there was very little that he could do to support his English cousins. As a bastard son, his minority was a tumultuous time for Normandy. The ducal court was a shambles, William’s guardians were nearly all murdered and he himself was frequently moved from place to place at night to escape his enemies. Elsewhere, the Norman nobles pursued their own private wars and vendettas. It was a time of lawlessness, which William survived only because of the inherited authority invested in his ducal office. Despite the unrest and the violence, ducal revenues continued to be collected and the church remained supportive of him.

 

David Douglas described William’s character as paradoxical. There is little doubt that the general impression of William that emerges from the pages of history is repellent (to use Douglas’ words): though not, of course, to everyone. A Norman monk, writing after William’s death, described him as the wisest prince in Christendom of his generation; he possessed ‘the largest soul’, was brave, intelligent, determined, articulate and temperate, and a good Christian. Others thought differently: an Englishman who met William and lived at his court agreed that he was a wise and powerful king, possibly the most powerful yet known to English history. He was, however, also a ‘harsh oppressor’, brutal, avaricious and above all cruel. Whilst these characteristics were not uncommon among secular leaders of the time, William was considered to have been exceptionally wanton in his disregard for human suffering. Examples of his tyranny abound in Norman and English history; suffice to say that William had an unattractive personality. Despite that, Douglas tries hard to defend him from the accusation that he was nothing more than a ruffian, a brute. He was a clever and able man, and an effective war leader. Despite his rough justice and harshness William restored the rule of law to Normandy. As king, he enforced English laws strictly; so much so, that It was said that any innocent man could wander the realm without fear of bandits or cut purses. He was also abstentious and pious. No doubt his childhood experiences had much to do with his savagery in war; but as Douglas points out it was not mindless savagery. For example, his sack of Romney in 1066 allowed for the bloodless occupation of Dover. The devastation of London and its surrounds in 1066 was a strategic necessity, which crushed defiance in the south. And his brutality in the north was successful in finally quelling resistance to his rule.[17]

 

Poitiers writes that Edward loved duke William ‘like a brother or son’; if so, such a close relationship can only have developed while Edward was in Normandy, since if they ever met afterwards (and that’s a big ‘if’), it was not more than once. It is not impossible that William, who lost his own father in 1034, regarded Edward as a father figure or perhaps as an elder brother, but it is unlikely to have occurred before duke Robert’s death. It is possible that as the Æthelings’ stock rose, Edward was admitted into the duke’s inner circle as a confidante to the boy duke; he may even have bonded with William on an emotional level. The fact remains however, that as the duke got older he became increasingly adept at separating his emotions from his political sense. Neither was Edward so foolish nor so saintly that he did not understand the political imperative of not allowing emotion to govern state policy, especially when was a king.

 

Harold Godwinson was the second son of Godwin earl of Wessex and his Danish wife Gytha. He was born sometime between the years 1020 and 1023. His father, even then, was the most famous and the most influential of king Cnut’s English earls, and the king’s principal enforcer. Earl Godwin was the son of Wulfnoth a minor Saxon thegn and a pirate; his rise under a Danish monarch is remarkable, since he was a staunch supporter of king Æthelrede during the Danish invasion. Indeed, his efforts on behalf of the doomed king so impressed Cnut that Godwin was quickly recruited as one of the ‘new men’ with whom the Danish king intended to rule his new kingdom. Godwin’s subsequent rise to the summit of the Anglo-Danish nobility was due to his achievements in royal service at a time when the king was struggling to control his dual kingdoms of England and Denmark. We cannot be certain whether Godwin led an elite force of English soldiers on Cnut’s Danish campaign or whether, more importantly, he held England as Regent for the king during his frequent absences on campaign. What is certain, however, is that by the time young Harold reached puberty his father was the established power behind the throne. Moreover, his prestige and influence continued after Cnut’s death. Earl Godwin survived the uncertain and dangerous reigns of Harold I and Harthacnut, and prospered during the reign of king Edward. It was during these years that Harold established himself as his father’s most loyal and effective lieutenant: his ‘eldest and wisest son’ and earl of East Anglia in his own right.

 

Earl Godwin’s unexpected death bought Harold to the fore in 1053.[18] He succeeded to the earldom of Wessex and to his father’s place at King Edward’s side. His role as the chief administrator of the king’s household and government (‘Mayor of the Palace’) is acknowledged by modern historians; though, there is no consensus on the nature of his influence over Edward: was it benign or malign? The ASC for all its faults has a singular advantage over other sources; it was compiled from annals written before Edward’s death. Its matter-of-fact reporting of historic events between 1053 and 1066, including war with the Scots and with the Welsh, and the steps taken to ensure an English succession does not suggest any cause for concern about the king’s relationship with Harold. Manuscripts C and D capture the prevailing contemporary English opinion of Harold as “The noble earl who ever faithfully obeyed his noble lord an words and deeds, neglecting nothing whereof the national king stood in need.[19] Predictably, the Vita Edwardi gives an even more impressive report of Harold’s service: “He wielded his father’s power even more actively and walked his ways, that is in patience and mercy, and with kindness to men of good will. But disturbers of the peace, thieves and robbers this champion of the law threatened with the face of a lion.”[20] The Vita also describes Harold as being (I paraphrase): ‘distinctly handsome, graceful, and brave. He possessed great stamina and strength, being able to go without sleep of food, which was coupled with a mildness of temper and a ready understanding. He took contradiction in good part without retaliating even once where Englishmen of compatriots were concerned. He was not rash or flippant. He was also good at concealing or disguising his intentions, so that someone who did not know him was in doubt what to think. Alas, he was also rather too generous with oaths’.[21]

 

This assessment of Harold is born out by entries in the Waltham Chronicle, which Harold’s twenty-first century biographer summarises: “The [Waltham] Chronicle too saw Harold as a fine soldier, tall in stature and incredibly strong’ more handsome than all the leading men of the land’. He was skilled in the military arts, knowledgeable, astute, vigorous, prudent, with all knightly prowess and wisdom, and well conversant with the laws of the land. Yet he could be headstrong and prone to trust too much to his own courage.” [22] We also have what is said to be a copy of Harold’s epitaph written on his tomb at Waltham (now destroyed): ” [he was the]…blessed father of our country…brave…renowned among men, a man of character and authority.[23] If these English sources are agreed on Harold’s virtues, the Norman’s are equally agreed on his vices. Though they accept he was wise and brave (thus, making William’s victory all the greater), the Normans regarded Harold as a treacherous perjurer who usurper the English throne and met a just end.

 

His contemporary reputation notwithstanding, it is difficult to make an objective judgement of Harold’s life and reign without taking account of his ambition. Due to the efforts of earl Godwin, his family were already immensely rich and powerful before his death. They were, however, politically isolated and unable to overcome opposition to their own foreign policy proposals or to resist the machinations of Robert Champart who seems to have been pushing the king towards a pro-Norman policy. Harold was every bit as ambitious as his father and even cleverer. He quickly built on the late earl’s legacy by building a pro-Godwin consensus among the English nobility. He achieved this by the force of his personality and , more importantly, by ensuring that as far as possible the key government offices and titles were filled by members of his family or their proxies. Consequently, on important issues, such as the succession he carried the weight of opinion in the Witan. Furthermore, he assiduously increased Godwin wealth, power and prestige by the acquisition of significant land holdings in the south. The Doomsday Book provides ample evidence of the massive increase in the House of Godwin’s estates during Harold’s tenure as earl. It has even been said that he was richer than the king. Such ambition raises the inference that Harold might well have considered himself to be the next king of England in the absence of a suitable English prince of royal blood. It is also a reasonable inference in these circumstances that King Edward might have felt threatened by Harold’s power. In which case, he might well look to his second cousin William as an ally against the over-mighty Godwins.

 

The English succession in 1042

Medieval English monarchs reigned with the consent of their subjects; that much is implicit in the coronation oath, which has been sworn by every English (later British) monarch since 973. By their oath English kings swore to uphold the law of the land, to protect the English church, and to be merciful and just in their governance. In return, they were crowned and anointed, which is a process that transformed their status from human to divine. As God’s representative on earth, kings could not be judged or chastised by mortal man. Indeed, the history of the British Isles gives many examples of how difficult it is to remove a bad king once he is crowned and anointed. Nevertheless, there were no hard and fast rules governing the royal succession in pre-conquest England; the guiding principle was political pragmatism, rather than hereditary right or precedent. The Anglo-Saxon Witan considered the royal succession to be far too important to be decided by the lottery of birth and they introduced a strong (occasionally decisive) element of election into the process. It is axiomatic, therefore, that nobody no matter how high born they were, nobody could expect to succeed to the throne unless they possessed the necessary qualities to rule according to their oath. It was important but not critical that any contender was of royal blood, though not necessarily the late king’s heir. A good example of this constitutional flexibility can be seen in the accession of Harold Harefoot in 1035. He was Cnut’s eldest son but not his appointed heir. Yet, he seized the throne, disinherited his half-brother Harthacnut and reigned for five years until his death in 1040. His success was due principally to the support he received from the English nobility who preferred the ‘English’ Harold to the ‘Danish’ Harthacnut.

 

In the absence of a suitable royal candidate, the throne might pass to an acceptable commoner, which is precisely what happened in 1066. The Ætheling Edgar was passed over because he was considered too young to reign; instead, Harold, a commoner was nominated by the late king and recognised by the Witan as king. It was always useful to have the late king’s nomination, which raised a presumption of competence. However, the deceased king’s wishes were not paramount, they could be, and sometimes were, ignored. For example, Cnut’s nomination of Harthacnut was ignored by the bulk of the English nobles in 1035.

 

Edward’s returned to England only twice between 1016 and 1042. His first visit, in 1035, was a foolish attempt to assert his title as Ætheling. However, he lacked English support and his mission was unsuccessful. Alfred’s later visit in the same year was equally foolish since it resulted in his capture and death in circumstances that were to blight Edward’s later relationship with earl Godwin.[24] Edward’s second visit in 1041 was presumably at the king Harthacnut’s invitation, since he still lacked support in England. Harthacnut’s reason for inviting his half brother to England is obscure; it is, nevertheless, evident that Edward was ‘associated’ with the crown from the beginning and was nominated by Harthacnut as his successor. This was doubly significant since it put Edward in a strong position to compete for the crown ahead of other claimants and it bought Edward and Godwin earl of Wessex into an association that was to prove important in the future. For the present, however, Harthacnut’s sudden and unexpected death in 1042 placed the sovereignty of England in jeopardy.

 

Edward was well qualified to wear the crown. He was the son of a king, he was Harthacnut’s nominated successor and he was born in England of mixed Saxon and Nordic blood; yet his succession was uncertain. The Scandinavians Swein Estrithson and Magnus the Good (king of Norway) also had claims to the English throne. Swein Estrithson was the grandson of Swein Forkbeard and the best Danish bloodline candidate. Magnus’ title was based on the terms of his peace settlement between with Harthacnut, in which — he claimed — Harthacnut had promised him the English throne should he (Harthacnut) die first. There was by now a well of support for Edward among the English laity but it was not limitless. Some key players maintained cautious neutrality in the beginning. Edward had to make a positive case for his succession. Ultimately, Edward’s descent from the West Saxon line of Cerdic ensured his succession in preference to the Scandinavian claimants. Swein Estrithson accepted f Edward’s succession but Magnus continued to assert his prior claim until he died. Although, Norman knights accompanied Edward on his return to England, they were an honour guard rather than a fighting force with which he could enforce his claim. If Edward owed his throne to anyone other than his parents then according to English sources that man was earl Godwin. In the English narrative, there is no doubt that it was Godwin’s status and influence that persuaded the doubtful Witan to acknowledge Edward as their liege lord.[25]

 

It is tempting to look back on Edward’s life as the story of his path to sainthood and his reign as merely the prelude to the battle of Hastings, during which time the Norman threat was ever present. However, we must resist that temptation, since that was not how it was, or even how it seemed to people at the time. Edward canonization in 1161 had more to do with twelfth century politics than with events prior to 1066. His enrolment into the ranks of the ‘Holy Confessors’ (hence his title) has influenced some modern interpretations of his kingship; however, its connection with the Conquest is so tenuous that I need say no more about it.

 

It is true that the question of the succession occupied English minds for much of Edward’s reign; however, it only became a problem once it was realised the he was not going to sire an Ætheling. The lack of a royal birth left the way open for Magnus to press his claim. Indeed, he was only prevented from doing so in 1045 by the distraction of his continuing war with Swein Estrithson. In the event, Magnus’ sudden death in 1047 probably saved Edward from disaster; it did not, however, end the Norse threat, since Harald Hadradi inherited Magnus’ claim and posed a formidable threat to Edward’s crown. Consequently, it was the risk of invasion from Scandinavia that continued to drive English foreign policy.

 

The Promise

William’s justification for the conquest of England and the validity of his title to the throne is devastatingly simple. Poitiers conveniently summarises it in the form of a message from the duke to Harold before the battle of Hastings: “The duke instructed a monk from Fecamp to carry a message to Harold. ‘It is neither boldness not injustice but mature reflection and the quest for justice, which have led me to cross to this land, of which King Edward, my lord and relative, made me the heir, as Harold himself admits, because of the high honours and benefices which I and my ancestors conferred on him and his brother, as well as their men, and because all the men of his race, he believed me to be the most worthy and capable of supporting him in his lifetime, and of governing the kingdom after his death. He would not have done this without the agreement of his magnates, by the advice of archbishop Stiggard, earl Godwin, earl Leofric and earl Siward: all of them subscribed under oath that they would receive me as lord after the death of Edward and would never in his lifetime attempt to seize the kingdom by plotting against me. He gave as hostages Godwin’s son and grandson. Finally, he sent Harold himself to Normandy, so that he and I, both being present, he would swear what his father and other men already named had sworn in my absence. But in this voyage towards me, he was in danger of being taken prisoner and I rescued him by strength and wisdom. Harold made himself my vassal by doing homage and gave me surety in writing for my claim for the kingdom of England.[26]

 

Jumiéges’ version of events is simpler: “Edward, king of the English, being according to the dispensation of God, without an heir, sent Robert [Champart], archbishop of Canterbury to the duke with a message appointing the duke as heir to the kingdom which God had entrusted to him. He also at a later time sent to the duke, Harold the greatest of all the counts in his kingdom alike in riches and honour and power. This he did in order that Harold might guarantee the crown to the duke by his fealty and confirm the same with an oath according to Christian usage…Harold thereupon…performed fealty to him in respect of the kingdom with many oaths.”[27]

 

These two sources lie at the heart of our understanding of the Norman Conquest. For centuries, historians have disregarded their deficiencies because they believed that the authors were honest reporters and duke William’s claim was essentially just. Take, for example, the following comment by Sir Frank Stenton: “William of Normandy had a direct claim to Edward’s interest as the son of the man who protected him in exile. That he carried his interest to the point of recognizing William as his heir is placed beyond reasonable doubt by the reiterated assertions of the Norman writers that there was on occasion when he promised the kingdom to William. They do not agree about the date of the promise…but there is much to suggest that some recognition of the kind was an incident … in the English revolution of 1051.[28] Sir Frank Stenton is such a distinguished historian that it is difficult to accept that he believed its repetition was sufficient to prove the Norman claim ‘beyond serious doubt’. Proof to that high standard requires independent corroboration or unimpeachable documentary evidence, neither of which is present for this claim. It is an example of the tendency of some historians to accept the Norman account without any genuine critical analysis. Dr Michael Lawson makes an even stranger assertion about the credibility of the Norman narrative as evidence: “Even though they (Poitiers and Jumiéges) had every reason to be biased on the issue, and say some things that are difficult to believe, much of what followed becomes intelligible if this an other statements by William of Jumiéges and his fellow Norman writer William of Poitiers…are accepted.[29]

 

Inevitably, some historians dismiss the Norman narrative as propaganda on the several grounds that it is biased, unsubstantiated and incredible.[30] Professor Frank Barlow baulked at describing it as ‘wholly fictitious’ but he did think it was ‘ex parte’ (one-sided) and ‘ex post facto’ (after the fact).[31] The accusation of bias, though undoubtedly true, goes only to its evidential value; it is not proof of its falseness. Similarly, the lack of corroboration by an independent source goes to the weight to be attributed to the Norman texts as evidence; it does not disprove them. Indeed, in the context of eleventh century diplomacy and international politics, it is questionable whether an independent witness actually existed: they all had an axe to grind. The force of the sceptics’ argument lies in the cumulative effect of all three grounds advanced, especially the last. The assertion that the Norman tradition is far-fetched provides disbelieving scholars with the means to probe for and to exploit the flaws of commission and omission contained in it.

 

The contention that Edward bequeathed his throne to William out of gratitude does not bear close examination.[32] Whilst in exile, Edward never abandoned his Ætheling status or allowed people to forget his noble lineage. His actions after he left Normandy in 1041 certainly support the view that his thoughts about exile were not particularly kindly or forgiving. Indeed, such was his bitterness towards Emma, the mother who abandoned him, that in 1043 he reduced her to penury and kept her in close, though not uncomfortable, confinement. William of Malmesbury also relates how earl Godwin convinced Edward that the ‘miseries and poverty’ he endured in exile would discipline him to be a just king.[33] Neither is there any evidence that the Normans did much to promote his succession. Malmesbury wrote this about Edward and Alfred’s situation in 1017: “I find that their uncle Richard took no steps to restore them to their country: on the contrary, he married his sister Emma to the enemy and invader; it may be difficult to say whether, to the greater ignominy of him who bestowed her, or of the woman who consented to share the nuptial couch of that man who had cruelly molested her husband and driven her children into exile”[34] It’s true, as Malmesbury states, that duke Robert considered restoring Edward to his inheritance in the 1030’s after he and Cnut became alienated, but that came to nothing. When Harthacnut died in 1042, William was still struggling to establish his own hegemony in Normandy and anyhow Norman help was unnecessary since “ …the whole nation then received Edward as king, as was his right by birth”. [35]   In fact, he seems to have been ‘elected’ even before Harthacnut’s funeral

 

Neither is it true that Edward deliberately packed his court and the Church with influential Normans, in preparation for an eventual Norman succession. Of the five nobles he created, none were Norman; of his twenty-nine ecclesiastical appointments, seven were foreigners and three of those were Norman.[36] Most of the men who accompanied Edward to England were friends and acquaintances from his time in exile; few, were men of substance in their homeland. They came to England to make their fortune. Edward actually promoted more Lotharingians than Normans. Robert Champart the former Norman abbot of Jumiéges, was the only Norman chosen for high ecclesiastical office and that was a disastrous appointment.

 

Sceptical historians also assert that regardless of what Edward may or may not have wanted, William was barred from the English succession because he was a bastard. The ancient Synod of Chelsea (787) proclaimed that only legitimate kings were to be chosen ‘none resulting from adulterous or incestuous relationships.’ The weakness of this argument is that although it represented the considered policy of the English church and English custom, it was not representative of Scandinavian or Norman culture at the time.[37] Bastardy was not the stigma on the continent that it was in England. That said, it is inconceivable that the English nobility would have considered it an honour to have a foreign bastard on the throne. This is an important point because it highlights the cultural and constitutional difference between England and Normandy, where inheritance was by primogeniture (the inheritance of the first born son). I think this point further militates against the view that Edward’s promise, if he made it, was valid or even that he meant it to be taken seriously.

 

It is a curious feature of the English narrative that it is not based on what is written in the ASC or the Vita Edwardi, but on what is omitted therefrom. Neither text contains any reference to Edward’s bequest. There are two references to the English succession in the ASC. The D and the E manuscripts each refer to the fact that in 1057, king Edward recalled his nephew Edward the Exile from banishment in Hungary. William of Malmesbury adds that the king specified that Edward the Exile was to be accompanied by all his family, since it was the king’s intention “ as he declared that either he or his sons should succeed to the hereditary kingdom of England ”, Florence of Worcester concurring. [38] Unfortunately nothing came of this, as Edward the Exile died en route to England, leaving his infant son Edgar as the remaining English Ætheling. The other reference to the succession is for the year 1066, when king Edward was on his deathbed: “ yet did the wise king entrust his kingdom to a man of high rank, to Harold himself, the noble earl who ever faithfully obeyed his noble lord in words and deeds neglecting nothing, whereof the national king stood in need.” [39] This leads me to an argument raised by the late Peter Rex; he argues that whatever Edward may or may not have promised to William, he changed his mind twice; first in 1057 and again in 1066. According to Rex Edward was entitled to do this under English civil inheritance law, which held that each new bequest superseded the previous one. Consequently, any bequest he might have made to William was cancelled in any event. While this is an attractive argument, it fails because it is based on the premise that English ‘kingship’ (i.e. the ‘Crown’ as a concept) is the heritable property of the royal family, which is wrong. The office of king (the crown) is not royal property to be bequeathed as though it was land or jewellery or money. The analogy with civil law is inappropriate because, as I have already said elsewhere, the succession is a political process and not a legal one. The reality is that Edward could not promise, bequeath or grant the throne to anybody, since that person would only ascend the throne if he had the support of the Witan. King’s could and often did make their preference known, which may or may not be accepted by the English nobility.[40]

 

The only reference to duke William in the ASC, is the following entry in manuscript D for the year 1051/52: “Then soon came duke William from beyond the sea with a great retinue of Frenchmen, and the king received him and as many of his companions as it pleased him, and let him go again.”[41] It is odd that this entry is unsupported by other contemporary English sources, especially in view of the tense political and diplomatic situation at the time. It raises two possibilities: i) that there was no contact or diplomatic arrangement between England and Normandy, or ii) it was of no consequence to the English chroniclers. Though this silence cannot be ignored or dismissed, it doesn’t actually prove anything. There are many reasons why Edward’s bequest was not recorded by the English; for example: it never happened, it was not newsworthy or perhaps they did not realise they needed to refute a hypothetical future claim of Norman legitimacy.

 

The combination of Norman ambiguity and English reticence has forced historians to speculate about if, when and how Edward might have bequeathed the throne to William. The general opinion is that, if it happened at all, it probably happened during or soon after a conflict between the King and Earl Godwin that erupted in 1051. Edward had not forgiven earl Godwin for his part in the death of Alfred the Ætheling and, stirred-up by Robert Champart the archbishop of Canterbury, wanted to bring Godwin down a peg or two. Godwin, for his part, resented his loss of influence at court caused by Champart’s machinations. The tension between king and earl came to a head in the summer of 1051. A violent clash in Dover between the townsfolk and the retinue of Count Eustace of Boulogne proved to be the catalyst for rebellion. Many people were killed in the affray and Eustace complained to Edward about the violence done to his men. The king therefore commanded Godwin to sack Dover as punishment for the brawl. The earl refused to do so on the grounds that the town lay within his estates and he did not wish to impose such a crushing punishment on his own vassals; especially if, as he believed, the king had acted hastily without knowing all the facts. Thus, it was that Godwin and his sons assembled a ‘great army’ and marched to within fifteen miles of where the king held court at Gloucester.[42]

 

The ASC (D) reports that the rebels were resolved to fight the king, unless count Eustace was handed over to them. However, the more sympathetic (to Godwin) E manuscript reports that they merely wanted to get the king’s and his council’s advice on how they might redress the wrongs done to them. It doesn’t really matter which of these two versions we believe since despite his wealth and power, Godwin was in this instance politically isolated. Loyalists’ flocked to Edward’s cause with their retinues and Godwin was soon outmuscled. Both sides withdrew from armed conflict to consider their positions. The king, now further reinforced, demanded that Godwin and his sons should appear before the Witan to explain their conduct. Unfortunately, the breach of trust was too serious for Godwin and his sons to place themselves at the king’s mercy. They refused to appear and were forced to flee the country. Earl Godwin went to Flanders with three of his sons; Harold went to Ireland with his youngest brother.

 

One of the significant features of the rebellion was the king’s repudiation of his wife Edith, which may have been at the behest of Robert Champart. In David Douglas’ opinion, the importance of this whole episode is that it bought the king’s childlessness and the problem of the succession to the fore at a time when earl Godwin’s influence at court had been removed. It is about this time, ‘before the end of 1051’ as Douglas writes, that Edward nominated William of Normandy as his heir.[43]The rebellion of the earl of Wessex may even have been caused by knowledge of this transaction and the affair at Dover would in that case have been regarded as a secondary cause of the upheaval that followed.”[44] In any event, and this is the point, Edward was now free to establish closer ties with Normandy. it has been suggested that William came to England personally to receive Edward’s promise. The authority for this proposition is the single entry in manuscript D of the ASC to which I have already referred. Florence of Worcester’s repetition of this entry may have led some historians to link William’s visit to Edward’s royal promise. Others doubt the visit ever took place.[45] Fortunately, we do not need to decide between the different opinions, since even if the visit did take place, there is nothing in manuscript D or in Florence of Worcester’s account or even in the Norman texts to suggest it was concerned with the English succession. Neither William of Poitiers nor William of Jumiéges ever assert that William received his promise directly from Edward, which they surely would have done had they known about it; it would have strengthened William’s claim immeasurably.[46] In fact, they do not mention the visit at all.

 

If we accept that William’s visit did take place, it is inconceivable that he would have come uninvited. So, why would he come? It was not for his aunt Emma’s funeral, which he never attended. If William came to see Edward at all, it is probable he came as a petitioner to seal a treaty of friendship between Normandy and England. Pete Rex thinks that is a possibility based on his interpretation of the single entry in the ASC (D): “ When king Edward accepted William and some (not all of) his men, he accepted them as vassals…William had done homage and fealty to Edward, probably to seal a treaty of friendship or alliance between them.” [47] On this interpretation, William’s visit had ‘no connotations’ of making him king of England. If William came as a petitioner, it might explain why the Norman writers do not mention the visit. They could never bring themselves to represent William as a petitioner seeking a favour of Edward. Equally, William may have come to support his cousin against the English rebels, or even to size-up his chances of claiming the English throne. In view of this last possibility, Sir Frank Stenton’s speculation that William might have had ‘designs’ on the English crown from as early as 1047 has implications he might not have intended. It implies that William’s aspiration for the English crown may have stemmed from imperial ambition rather than the recovery of his inheritance.[48]

 

The Norman sources are, however, explicit. It was Robert of Jumiéges who conveyed Edward’s promise to duke William. Unfortunately, they do not date Robert’s visit, which has given rise to some intense speculation about when it might have taken place. If, as some scholars suggest, it was in 1051, during Robert’s visit to Rome for his pallium as archbishop of Canterbury, one wonders why no mention of it is made in the ASC or in the Vita in the context of earl Godwin’s rebellion, which they report in great detail. The difficulty is that Poitiers asserts that the three great English earls and archbishop Stigand agreed with Edward’s promise. If that is true, it dates the promise to 1052, after Godwin had recovered his authority with the king. In which case, Robert of Jumiéges could hardly have been the messenger since he had fled the country by then.[49] There is no right answer to this conundrum; the ‘evidence ‘ is just not there to do other than theorise.

 

The Oath

Harold’s visit to Normandy provides different challenges. It is possibly the most important episode in the pre-conquest story since it goes to the core of the William’s claim. Harold’s perjury was his raison d’etre for invading England. The whole episode as it is described stems from the pens of the Norman writers. They assert king Edward sent his greatest lord, Harold Godwinson, to Normandy to guarantee Williams succession on oath. On his way to Normandy, Harold was captured and imprisoned at Ponthieu by Count Guy of Abbeville. Harold was released following the duke’s personal intervention and taken to Normandy where he ‘sojourned’ as the duke’s ‘guest’ for a while. Whilst in Normandy, he swore an oath of allegiance to the duke ‘according to Christian usage’ and as he had been commanded to do by king Edward.

 

The challenge for those writing about this affair now is that the truth cannot be established. The evidence is too unreliable. For instance, there is obvious confusion about the venue for Harold’s oath swearing: Poitiers puts it at Bonneville, the Bayeux Tapestry shows Bayeux, Orderic Vitalis suggests Rouen and William of Jumiéges says nothing. What are we supposed to think? We also have to take into account Poitiers’ tendency to exaggerate, which is apparent in the passage where he suggests that Harold’s embassage was meant to increase Edward’s honour; presumably, by the acquisition of such a distinguished heir. That is nonsense, since it is patently obvious that it was the king who honoured the duke if he named him as heir.[50] Despite his position in the duke’s household and despite his glorification of William’s character and achievements, Poitiers is evidently not an eyewitness to the events he describes.  It is most likely that he was using information contained from a complex and sophisticated legal case, which William had submitted to his fellow Christian Princes and to the Pope, in support of his title to the English crown and to reassure them about his intentions.[51]

 

Finally, on the issue of Norman credibility, I refer to Poitier’s statement that Harold gave his oath willingly as a quid pro quo for retaining his titles and estates after William’s accession. This version of events is too improbable to accept. Harold was the king’s wealthiest, most powerful and most important subject. He was England’s most redoubtable warrior, an excellent diplomat and a wise administrator. As head of the king’s household and his principal advisor, Harold took on the burden of the governance and administration of the realm while the king concentrated on his own priorities: religious devotion and hunting. The political reality is that Harold was easily the best person to succeed Edward after his death.[52] The idea that Harold would willingly give this up merely to maintain his status quo as an earl in William’s court is absurd. Paul Hill regards this whole thing as akin to a negotiation in which Harold was bargaining for his own demands.[53] Even if we accept Hill’s analogy, it is impossible to think that Harold would accept so little in exchange for so much unless, of course, he had no choice.

 

Even though the truth of Harold’s visit can never be known, there are some agreed facts that need not trouble us. First, it is indisputable that Harold visited the Continent probably in 1064. Second, it is accepted that, whether by design or misadventure, Harold fell into the hands of duke William and spent time in Normandy as the duke’s guest. Third, we can be sure that whether under duress or voluntarily Harold swore an oath to William of some sort. What remain in dispute are: (i) the purpose of Harold’s visit, (ii) the type and meaning of his oath and (iii) whether the oath was given as a result of deception and/or under duress.

 

The Tapestry’s treatment of this episode is revealing. As Freeman recognised and others have argued, it owes more to Eadmer’s Saxon tradition than Poitiers’ or Jumiéges’ Norman one.[54] According to Eadmer, Harold persuaded a reluctant king to allow him to travel to Normandy to bring back his brother and his nephew who were hostages there. The king did not trust William; he believed he would seek to gain ” some great advantage to himself. ” Despite his fear that the trip would end badly for Harold and for the kingdom, the king did not veto it. Harold sailed for Normandy but was shipwrecked in a great storm, captured by the Lord of Ponthieu and imprisoned. He managed to bribe a guard with the promise of reward and the duke of Normandy was told what had happened. The duke secured Harold’s release and took him to Normandy ‘for a few days’. William agreed to release the hostages on condition that Harold supported his claim to the English crown, which, he said, was promised to him by Edward when he was in Normandy and “when they were both young.”   Perceiving the danger, Harold agreed to William’s condition; whereupon, he was made to swear an oath on holy relics. Harold returned to England with his nephew (his brother remaining as surety for Harold’s help). “When, on being questioned by the king he told him what had happened and what he had done, the king exclaimed: ‘Did I not tell you that I knew William and that your going might bring untold calamity on this kingdom!’ Shortly after this Edward died.” [55]

 

The Tapestry gives no hint as to the purpose of Harold’s visit and to understand the Saxon interpretation we must begin at the end, with the scene showing Harold’s return and his meeting with the king: “It captures the scene of Harold’s return to Edward brilliantly. Harold is shown in an astonishingly but deliberately contorted stance; his head is bent low, his neck stretched out, his shoulders remarkably hunched, his hands raised in a vain attempt at explanation.”[56] It is plain to see that Harold is no longer considered to be a knight above reproach; indeed, “he is an outcast devoid of honour, his hunched and twisted figure announces his moral depravity much as does Shakespeare’s that of Richard III.” [57]

 

  1. The Bayeux Tapestry: Harold reporting the outcome of his journey to Edward Bayeux Tapestry 02.jpg

 

The artist’s skill is in the fact that a Norman audience (for whom this was intended) would see exactly what they expected to see: perfidious Harold. Whereas, on a more thoughtful appreciation, we can see that this scene does not depict Harold returning from a successful mission upon which the king had sent him (and as the Norman case requires). Edward’s admonishing finger pointed at the earl only makes sense in the context of Eadmer’s account that the king disapproved of the trip and even more of the outcome. This interpretation might explain the ambiguity of the opening scene of the Tapestry; wherein, the king and the earl are portrayed in a master-servant relationship.

 

  1. Edward and Harold ‘discuss’ the earls planned journey to NormandyBayeux Tapestry 01.jpg

The Norman lord who commissioned the tapestry and Norman the audiences would have little difficulty in perceiving this as Edward commanding Harold to go to Normandy to confirm William’s designation as heir to the throne; though, significantly that is not at all obvious from the accompanying textual inscription. The reason for the visit is not made clear from the text, as it very easily could have been. This ambiguity may have been deliberate so as to make a dual interpretation possible without it being obvious to the Normans. Furthermore, in the context of the final scene, Edward’s finger pointed at Harold’s chest coupled with the king’s facial expression and the manner in which he leans towards Harold suggests that he could very easily having been making the point forcefully that Harold’s proposed journey was a bad idea.

If Harold was not sent by Edward to guarantee Williams succession, then why did he go to Normandy? It could have been, as Eadmer states, to recover hostages. We know that William held two English hostages, one of whom returned to England with Harold.[58] That said, the question of hostages is a matter of some controversy among scholars. Poitiers declared that in order to confirm his grant of the succession Edward surrendered Godwin’s unnamed son and nephew as hostages to the duke. Eadmer not only names the hostages as Godwin’s son Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon but he also links their presence in Normandy to the reconciliation of the king and earl Godwin in 1052. According to Eadmer, Edward demanded hostages as sureties for Goodwin’s loyalty. Eadmer implies that Robert Champart, archbishop of Canterbury, conveyed the hostages to Normandy at the same time as he fled there to avoid Godwin’s vengeance.[59] The ASC (E) supports Eadmer’s account. According to it, bishop Stigand and the ‘wise men both inside and outside the city’ intervened with God’s help in what was a standoff between the king and the earl “…and advised that hostages should be given as surety on either side, and so it was done.” Barlow is inclined to regard this as ‘unconvincing’ support for Eadmer; he quibbles about whether hostages were actually exchanged. The fact the ASC says explicitly ‘this was done’ is convincing enough for me.

 

Harold may have been trying to arrange a dynastic marriage between the duke’s family and his own. The author of ‘King Harald’s Saga’ certainly thinks that the problem between the two men was caused by a broken marriage promise; it seems, that much of Christendom thought the same.[60] According to Peter Rex: ” Most accounts of the matter, outside Normandy, state that Harold had agreed to marry a daughter of the duke and that the quarrel between was because he broke his word to do so. It was that and not an oath about the English succession that was widely known throughout Western Europe.”[61] William of Malmesbury is not sure what to believe. He half-heartedly rejects the claim that Edward sent Harold to Normandy to confirm William’s succession, on grounds that “he imagined (that) device to extricate himself…(from the clutches of Guy of Abbeville).”[62] In Malmesbury’s view, it is ‘nearest the truth’ to say that Harold went sea fishing and was blown onto the shore at Ponthieu by a tempest, and seized by Guy’s men, who imprisoned him. Subsequently, he was liberated at William’s command and taken personally to Normandy by Guy. There he ingratiated himself to the Normans by his courage and ability: “Of his own accord (he) confirmed to (William) by oath the castle of Dover, which was under his jurisdiction and the kingdom of England, after the death of Edward.[63] It is at this point that Harold is supposed to have been betrothed to William’s daughter.

 

Peter Rex offers what he considers to be the natural explanation for Harold’s journey; namely, that he was scrutinizing the possible opposition.[64] The Vita Edwardi describes Harold’s fondness for using foreign trips to spy out the land, and to familiarise himself with the character, policy and strength of the princes of Gaul. This is espionage, which Harold carried out “…personally and adroitly…and by God’s grace, he came home passing with watchful mockery through all ambushes as was his way.[65] The simplest explanation of a mystery is often the correct one and it may be so here: who knows? Rex is surely right, though, to conclude that none of these conflicting accounts are watertight or compelling. What they do tell us, however, is that the Norman narrative was not universally accepted outside the duchy.

 

I turn now to the third question. The belief that Harold was an oath breaker was widespread Europe after of the Conquest. The Norman sources are partial and they have embellished the circumstances of the oath; nevertheless, they are unlikely to have fabricated it. Given what we are told of his character, the idea that Harold was tricked is preposterous. The relevant question is whether he swore an oath readily rather than willingly to escape the danger he perceived. It would be the rational thing to do and in keeping with his apparent fondness for oath taking. By all accounts, Harold was a savvy politician, diplomat and soldier. He was well able to conceal his feelings and his intentions, and to dissemble if necessary. It is inconceivable that he was not aware of the posturing taking place in Normandy. He surely realised that, in the absence of a suitable prince of the royal blood, he was the best English candidate to succeed Edward. And he must also have realised, if not before then certainly during his sojourn in Normandy, that William was a rival for the throne. There were other rivals, he knew, but William was the most dangerous. I don’t think Harold had any intention of curtailing his own regal ambition by supporting William’s claim, or of marrying the duke’s daughter. Yet, discretion being the better part of valour, he probably thought there was less risk in pretending he might.

 

Eadmer’s ‘History’ supports the above interpretation. Even though he is not an eyewitness and his account is unique, Eadmer is probably reporting a Saxon tradition current in England after the Conquest. Indeed, we can infer as much from the Bayeux Tapestry, to which I have already referred. The importance of this is that it confirms that even the Saxons believed Harold swore an oath of some sort about the English succession. Eadmer describes how William wrote to the newly crowned Harold, demanding that he send his sister to Normandy as he promised and reproaching Harold for violating his other promises, given on oath. Harold’s reply as described by Eadmer is a potent mixture of sarcasm and contempt, which indicates that Harold was not inclined to appease the duke: ” My sister, whom according to our pact you ask for, is dead. If the duke wishes her body, such as it now is, I will send it, that I may not be held to have violated my oath. As to the stronghold at Dover and the well of water in it, I have completed that according to our agreement, although for whose use I cannot say. As for the kingdom, which was not then mine, by what right could I give or promise it? If it is about his daughter he is concerned, whom I ought, as he asserts, take to be my wife, he must know that I have no right to set any foreign woman upon the throne of England without having first consulted the princes. Indeed, I could not do so without committing a great wrong.”[66] Harold’s scornful attitude is even clearer as the continuing ‘correspondence’. William, now incensed, replies that unless Harold keeps his promise to marry his daughter, he will enforce his right to the English succession by force of arms; to which, Harold replies: “I will not do the one and I do not fear the other.” [67]

 

The point that Harold had no authority to promise the throne to William is certainly true, as both men well knew. It is, however, beside the point since that is not accusation made against Harold. He is alleged to have pledged his support for the duke’s succession. The reply that Eadmer attributes to Harold avoids the issue, possibly because the accusation cannot be denied. The possibility remains that Harold was confident he could wriggle out of an oath obtained under duress and, furthermore he didn’t fancy the duke’s chances of enforcing it. This is pure speculation of course, since we cannot know the absolute objective truth after the passage of nine hundred and fifty years.

We covered a sequel to Hastings here

[1] Tostig Godwinsson was the former earl of Northumberland. In 1065, the Northumbrians rebelled against him and rejected him as their ldeao Stephen Morillo (Ed) – The battle of Hastings (Boydell 1996) rd. He fled to Flanders where his wife’s kin were. He was resentful of Harold for not coming to his aid and threw in his lot with the Norwegians in 1066. Harald Sigurdsson said he had inherited King Magnus of Norway’s title, which was derived from a treaty with the late king Harthacnut of England. Tostig had attempted his own invasion in May but was driven northwards where he harried the English coast until he sailed for Norway. Harold perceived Tostig’s raiding as a precursor to William’s planned invasion. The actual number of warriors involved on both sides is unknown but best estimates suggest between 5-6000 men on each side at Fulford and probably similar numbers at Stamford Bridge. However, the English losses at Fulford were heavy in their best troops, who could not be replaced in time to face the Normans in the south. These northern troops were sorely missed at Hastings. It is probable that Harold would have defeated the Norman invaders, were it not for the distraction of the Norwegian invasion. This is all I propose to say about the Norwegian invasion and the role of Tostig in English politics since they are not strictly germane to my main article.

[2] Magnus Magnusson and Herman Pálsson (Trans) – King Harald’s Saga from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (Penguin Classics 1966) pp.140-155; this is the most detailed Scandinavian source for the Norwegian invasion of 1066. It cannot, however, be taken literally since it was not written contemporaneously with events and Snorri was an inveterate storyteller with a tendency to embellish the facts.

[3] The battle of Hastings is itself the subject of a controversy that raises issue I cannot deal with in this article. The traditional depiction of the fighting and the course of the battle have been contradicted by military experts, as has its location. See, for example, Stephen Morillo (Ed) – The battle of Hastings (Boydell 1996); MK Lawson   – The Battle of Hastings 1066 (The History Press 2016 edition); John Grehan and Martin Mace – The Battle of Hastings 1066: the uncomfortable truth (Pen & Sword Books 2012).

[4] Frank Barlow – Edward the Confessor (Yale 1997 edition) p.xxix

[5] Lawson, p.17

[6] David Bates – William the Conqueror (Yale 2016) p.7

[7] Bates, ibid

[8] GN Garmonsway (ed and trans) – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (JM Dent, Everyman edition 1972)

[9] Ian Walker – Harold: the last Anglo-Saxon king (Sutton 1997) p.xx

[10] Frank Barlow (ed and trans) – Vita Edwardi Regis (The Life of King Edward) (Nelson Medieval Texts 1962) pp.9-10; Thomas Forester (trans) – The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester with two continuations (London 1854) passim; see also Barlow (Edward) passim: esp Appendix A, pp.291-300.

[11] E A Freeman – The Authority of the Bayeux Tapestry [published in ‘The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry’ [Richard Gameson (Ed)] (Boydell 1997) pp.7-15]; this essay was reproduced from Freeman’s ‘The Norman Conquest of England: its causes and results (Oxford 1875) pp.563-575

[12] Lawson pp.77-85 for example; Dr Lawson’s interpretation of Tapestry is a typical example of the general opinion that its storyline has a theme of English oath breaking.

[13] Bates p.194; Peter Rex – Harold II: the doomed Saxon king (Tempus 2005) passim, but esp pp.157-178; NP Brooks and HE Walker – The authority and interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry: published in Richard Gameson (Ed) – The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry (Boydell Press 1997) pp. 63-92; this is a seminal article on modern thinking about the Tapestry; see also Andrew Bridgeford -1066: the hidden history of the Bayeux Tapestry (Walker & Co 2006) et passim; see also Carola Hicks – The Bayeux Tapestry: the story of a modern masterpiece (Vintage 2008) Chp 1 passim.

[14] Emma was the half-Viking sister to Richard I duke of Normandy (942-996). Her nephew, Richard II (996-1027) was Edward’s first cousin. As the (illegitimate) son of duke Richard’s younger brother Robert (1027-1035), William the Bastard was Edward’s second cousin

[15] Mk Lawson – Cnut: England’s Viking king (The History Press 2011 edition) pp.104-107. Dr Lawson raises the possibility that Cnut offered to share the of England kingdom with Æthelrede’s sons; however, duke Robert death in 1034 and Cnut’s death soon after prevented this proposal being taken forward.

[16] David Douglas – William the Conqueror (Yale1999 edition) pp.160-67 (esp161)

[17] Douglas pp.364-376. I make no apology for extrapolating this paragraph from Douglas’ biography; Bates pp.513-528 offers a different approach. He rejects Douglas’ straightforward ‘paradoxical’ interpretation of William’s character in favour of a more subtle judgement, which frankly was too elusive for my taste.

[18] Vita p.30; Swein Godwinsson was the eldest of Godwin’s sons; however, he died in 1052.

[19] Garmonsway pp.194-195

[20] Vita; ibid

[21] Rex (Harold) pp.86 and 87; Vita p.30

[22] Rex (Harold) ibid, citing L Watkins and M Chibnal (Eds) – The Waltham Chronicle (Oxford Medieval Texts 1994). the author of the Waltham Chronicle claimed that his information came from Turkill the Sacristan, an old man who was a contemporary of Harold.

[23] Rex (Harold) p.87 citing: Harleian MS3776. Fol. 62n & 62v.

[24] Alfred was captured on his way to London by earl Godwin and his men, and handed over to king Harold I’s men who killed him in particularly gruesome circumstances; whether this was through negligence or by design is not known. Edward never forgave Godwin for his part in the death of his brother.

[25] Frank Stenton – Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1971 3rd edition) p.560

[26] Morillo, p.11; this is a useful text book because it contains extracts from the Norman and English sources, from which my quote is taken

[27] Morillo p.18

[28] Stenton p.561;

[29] Lawson pp.23 and 97; even though Dr Lawson acknowledges the difficulties of the Norman accounts (see also my note 3 above) he chooses to either reject or ignore his own concerns.

[30] Barlow (Edward) passim; Rex (Edward) chapter 13 et passim; Peter Rex – Harold II; the doomed Saxon king (Tempus 2005) Chapter 8 et passim. All these authors challenge the Norman tradition in detail that is impossible to repeat in this article.

[31] Barlow (Edward) p.107

[32] Barlow (Edward) ibid: citing Poitiers pp. 30-32,158,168 and 174-176, and Jumiéges p.132.

[33] William of Malmesbury p. 217

[34] William of Malmesbury p 198

[35] Garmonsway pp.162-163 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record of Edward’s succession with its accustomed brevity

[36] Rex (Harold) p.35; Walker p.25

[37] Rex (Edward) p.173; of course, bastardy was treated differently in Norman culture, which was Scandinavian in origin. See also Bates pp. 513-528

[38] William of Malmesbury p.253 and Florence of Worcester p.159; Malmesbury and Florence were writing in the twelfth century, by which time England was a hereditary kingdom. It was the Normans who introduced the continental practice of succession by strict inheritance and primo geniture. Although that was not the case in England during the Saxon dynasty, the Anglo-Norman chroniclers may have simply reflected 12th century pro-Norman opinion as they were given to understand it.

[39] Garmonsway p.195

[40] Rex (Edward) pp.176-179; this sets out Rex’s argument and his reasoning

[41] Garmonsway p.176; see also Florence of Worcester p.152. Florence mentions the duke’s visit with a retinue, adding that “on their return (Edward) made them many valuable presents”

[42] Stenton p.563

[43] Douglas p.169

[44] Douglas ibid

[45] Lawson p.24, believes that William visited England “presumably to thank king Edward for the offer of the throne and to accept it ”; see also Paul Hill – The Road to Hastings: the politics of power in Anglo-Saxon England (Tempus 2005) pp.108-110. Hill treats the visit and Edward’s promise as established facts. For a different opinion see Douglas at P.169; he thinks the visit is unlikely to have taken place, as William was too busy campaigning against his enemies in Normandy.

[46] Rex (Edward) pp.113-114 contains a helpful discussion on this topic

[47] Rex (Edward) ibid; Rex’s point is legalistic since it depends on the construction and context of the language used in the text to describe the visit. Put simply, Rex argues that the words used imply that Edward was the ‘lord’ and William was the ‘vassal’ in their relationship, and that William did fealty to Edward. Given the obvious disparity in their status, it is reasonable to consider the king superior to the duke.

[48] Frank Stenton – Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1971 3rd edition) p.560

[49] Rex (Harold) pp.148-149; Rex is merely exploring the possibilities

[50] Barlow (Edward) p.225

[51] Barlow (Edward) pp.223; Bates p.193; Poitiers account is described as ‘the exposition of a legal case”

[52] Rex (Harold) pp.150-151

[53] Hill p.135

[54] Geoffrey Bosanquet (Trans) – Eadmer’s History of Recent Events in England [Historia Novorum in Anglia] (London 1964) pp.6-8; Eadmer (1060-1127) was a Saxon monk from Canterbury who was born before the battle of Hastings. His Historia Novorum in Anglia is primarily a history of the public life of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury and Eadmer’s hero. Eadmer has a good reputation among scholars for his prose and his objectivity. He had what Malmesbury called ‘a chastened elegance of style’. He anticipated modern historians by concentrating his history on a specific subject and provides useful insight into the reigns of the Norman kings. His account of events before he was born probably reflects an Anglo-Saxon oral tradition.

[55] Eadmer ibid

[56] Brooks and Walker p.73

[57] MEJ Cowdrey – Towards an interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry: published in Richard Gameson (Ed) – The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry (Boydell Press 1997) p.101

[58] Barlow (Edward) pp. 124 and 301 citing Poitiers at pp100 & 114

[59] There is a school of thought that argues the possibility that it was at this point that Robert Champart misled the duke into believing he (William) was Edward’s nominated heir. Robert may even have suggested that the ‘hostages’ were Edward’s surety for that bequest. This is pure speculation, which only makes sense if we accept the fact that Robert abducted Wulfnoth and Hakon, and forcibly and illegally removed them from Edward’s power. Otherwise, it is inconceivable that Edward, a crowned and anointed monarch would offer surety to mere a duke for a promise that he had no need to make and could not be enforced after his death.

[60] Magnus Magnusson and Herman Pálsson (Trans) – King Harald’s Saga from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (Penguin Classics 1966) pp.131-133: of all the accounts of this visit, this Scandinavian one is the most entertaining. Intriguingly Snorri records William’s jealousy and his suspicion that his wife Matilda was flirting with Harold.

[61] Rex (Edward) p.175 citing a number of obscure references, including ‘an anonymous writer of Cambrai’ and De Inviventione S Crucis: see also Rex (Harold) pp.157-178 for a useful discussion with references, concerning Christendom’s perception of Harold’s visit and his agreement with William. However, Rex is mistaken to write that Harold was supposed to have agreed to be William’s vicar, from the word ‘vicarius’. A ‘vicar’ is specifically God’s representative on earth (SOED). Vicarious in this context means no more than representative or proxy.

[62] Malmesbury pp.254-255

[63] Malmesbury ibid

[64] Rex (Edward) p.174; Vita Edwardi p.33

[65] Vita Edwardi ibid

[66] Eadmer p.8

[67] Eadmer p.9

GREENWICH PALACE – HUMPHREY DUKE OF GLOUCESTERS PALACE OF PLEAZANCE

Gloucester-Talbot-Shrewsbury-Book.jpegHumphrey Duke of Gloucester from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book

 

large.jpg

A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.

Greenwich Palace, or Placentia as it is often known, was built around 1433 by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, who named it Bella Court after he had been granted the Manor of Greenwich by his nephew Henry Vl.  There had been   been an even older palace on  that site, perhaps dating from the reign of Edward l.  Henry lV dated his will from his ‘Manor of Greenwich January 22nd 1408′ and the palace appears to have been his favourite residence.  However, the grant in 1433 of 200 acres of land was for the purpose of enclosing it as a park.  It would seem that Humphrey was pleased with the spot because 4 years later he and his ill-fated wife, Eleanor Cobham,  obtained a similar grant and in that, licence was given for the owners to ’embattle and build with stone’ as well as ‘to enclose and make a tower and ditch within the same and a certain tower within the part to build and edify’ (1)

Duke-Humphreys-Tower-holler.jpg

Part of the drawing of Greenwich Palace by Anthony van der Wyngaerde 1558 with Duke Humphrey’s tower on top of the hill.

Accordingly soon after this  Humphrey commenced building the tower within what is now the site of the Royal Observatory which was then called Greenwich Castle,  and he likewise rebuilt the old palace on the spot where the west wing of the Royal Naval College now stands which he renamed from its agreeable situation, Pleazaunce or Placentia although this name was not commonly used until the reign of Henry Vlll.

greenwichpalace.jpg

Another view of van der Wyngaerde’s drawing of Greenwich Palace c 1558

Upon Humphrey’s death the palace was granted to his nemesis, Margaret of Anjou.  Margaret added embellishments including terracotta tiles bearing her monogram, filled the windows with glass and built a landing stage and treasure house (2)

fig61.gif

A view of Greenwich Palace from a print published by the Society of Antiquaries 1767

Later Edward IV enlarged the park, stocked it with deer and bestowed it as a residence upon Elizabeth Wydeville.  Greenwich has been mentioned as one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and it certainly crops up regularly in Edward’s itinerary (3).  A joust was held there on the occasion of Richard of Shrewsbury’s marriage to Anne Mowbray and it was there at Greenwich  on the 19th November 1481 that Anne tragically died at the age of just 8 years old and a few short months later,  Edward and Elizabeth’s own daughter,  the 15 year old Princess Mary also died on either the 20th or 23rd May 1482.  The manuscript covering Mary’s death says she died ‘in the town’  but it is probable this meant the palace and presumably she would have ‘lain in the chapel of the palace with appropriate services and perhaps the attendance of her parents'(3).  A week after her death, on the 27th May,  Mary’s body was taken to the parish church of Greenwich on the first stage of the final journey to St Georges Chapel, Windsor.  Mary may have been visited by her father,  Edward lV,  a few days before her death.  He was at Canterbury on the 17th and back in London on the 23rd which may have been the day that his daughter breathed her last so clearly if he did indeed visit he did not linger.  Numerous Wydeville ladies were conspicuous among the mourners including Jane, Lady Grey of Ruthin, sister to the queen and Jacquetta, another sister’s daugher,  Joan Lady Strange, wife of George Stanley.  Another niece, Lady ‘Dame’ Katherine Grey, possibly the daughter of Jane Wydeville was also present.  Dinner for the funeral group was at the palace after which Mary’s body was taken from the church and begun its last sad journey to Windsor.  Mary’s funeral is more than adequately covered in The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor by Anne F Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs.  It may well be that sisters-in-law Anne and Mary knew each other well and that perhaps  Greenwich Palace was being used as a royal nursery in much the same way as Sheriff Hutton was later  to become, although the age gap would surely have prevented them from being actual playmates.

 

FullSizeRender.jpg

The Royal Window, Canterbury Cathedral.  Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters.  Mary is shown as the last figure on the right hand side.  Greenwich was one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and where her daugher Mary died in 1482.

Greenwich Palace  conveniently came into Henry Tudor’s hands when Elizabeth Wydeville was,  ummmmm,  retired to Bermondsey Abbey on an altogether frivolous charge. It is true to say that Tudor heavily rebuilt the palace between 1498 and 1504, renaming it Placentia, (the pleasant place),  and the result of which is that any reference to Placentia usually finds it referred to as a Tudor palace but it is the earlier years of the palace with its Lancastrian and  Yorkist links that I find the most intriguing.

 

2-the-plaque-in-the-courtyard-of-the-royal-naval-college-marking-the-site-of-greenwich-palace.jpg

Modern plaque commemorating the ‘building’ of Greenwich Palace by Henry Tudor.  Visitors could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking , with no mention made of the earlier palace, that Tudor was reponsible for the building of Greenwich Palace from the onset.  

Later in its long history the palace was to see many important events including the birth of Henry Vlll in 1491.  Henry jnr spared no expense in beautifying Placentia and his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was solemnised there on the 3 June 1509.  Many sumptious banquets, revels and jousts were held there – in Henry’s ‘Manor of Pleazaunce’  – and both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth were born there.  Details of these and other less salubrious events such as the arrest of Anne Boleyn are readily available to anyone who is interested in the Tudors and their shenanigans and I will not  cover them here.  The Tudors were emulated  by the Stuarts in choosing Placentia  as a favourite residence until Charles ll,  finding the old palace greatly decayed,  ordered it to be taken down and yet another new palace to be built.  Thus Greenwich or Placentia – whichever name you prefer arose, phoenix like from the ashes and a new chapter in its long history commenced.

GetImage.aspx.jpeg

As a footnote to Greenwich Palace and its rich history, much excitement has been created by the discovery by archaeologists  working on the painted hall at the Old Royal Naval College  of the discovery of two room, thought to have been used as kitchen or laundry rooms from the old palace.  One of these rooms featured a lead-glazed tiled floor and wall cavities which may have been used to store food and drink or even ‘bee boles’ which would have housed beehive baskets or ‘skeps’ during the winter when the bee colonies hibernated.

greenwich.jpg

tudor-palace.jpg

The cavities from Greenwich Palace believed to be for storing food, drink or even ‘bee boles’.

  1. Old and New London, vol 6 p.165 Edward Walford.
  2.  The London Encyclopaedia pp 345, 346.  Edited by Weinren and Hibbert
  3.  The Private Life of Edward lV John Ashdown-Hill pp 48,49,62,63, 87, 88, 114, 115, 117, 118, 119, 155, 157, 158, 188, 189, 190,191, 192, 204, 205, 206

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Placentia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WHITE ROSE: A POEM FOR RICHARD

Several years ago I was out at Bosworth to attend an author signing with one of my favourite Ricardian authors, Sharon Penman, who wrote the mighty epic The Sunne in Splendour. We were staying in the Royal Arms at Sutton Cheney, which has a public room filled with armour, memorabilia, paintings of the battle and of Richard and Tudor (I put the latter at my back!)

Our room was in an annexe that looked out over the fields. The light was grey, heavy; the soil of the field, newly ploughed, glistening after rain, looked red. Redemore. The Red Plain. In the distance the hedges wore little crowns of mist, and a single dark-winged crow sat on the fence, its shrill cry breaking a strange stillness. A haunting place.

We went to bed. In the night we heard rain drumming on the roof. We turned over,slept.  In the early hours of the morning,  I was woken by a ruckus overhead. There was crashes and bangs as if someone, or more like multiple someones, were streaming, charging over the roof of the building. I began to fancy them as hoofbeats and laughed at myself and my infamous imagination.  It must surely be the hotel staff doing something in a room above us…but why the heck were they doing it pre-dawn when they had guests?

The sounds clattered away into nothingess. I went back to sleep. Later, when  we got up and went to pack our things in the car, I looked back towards the building.

There was no upstairs room above ours.

This poem came out of that night….

THE WHITE ROSE

I walked upon Bosworth field,
the soil red beneath my feet
as rain pelted from a stormy sky
in a grey and stony sheet

Sutton Cheney’s stolid tower
was an upturned bucket in the mist
and the whole rolling landscape
a haunted vista twilight kissed.

Why do I feel such strangling sorrow
in that lonely, empty space
where amongst the bristling hedges
the small birds dart and race

soaring like souls into a sky
unchanged by the passing years,
still on this sullen summer’s day
pouring out its bitter tears.

I found a crooked, winding path
that crossed a farmer’s land…
so plain and oh so ordinary
you might dismiss it out of hand

But I knew that here was the place
where a banner once soared on high,
and a White Boar fighting rose and fell,
a betrayed man consigned to die

So history was written
and legends false and foul were born,
birthed out of blood and treachery
on a red-tinged summer’s morn

The victor writes the pages,
speechless dead cannot defend
but I swore I would speak for him
both now and till the end.

And when I returned later
to my little rented room
at midnight I heard thunder
like a banging drum of doom

or was it something greater
that tore across the brooding sky,
passing in flashes over Bosworth…
what does it really mean to die?

Westward like winter’s geese
I saw pale horsemen flying
while the echoes of ghostly horns,
drifted outward, fading, dying….

And on the rain-bright road
its petals teared with icy rain
lay a perfect snow-white rose…
King Richard rides again.

J.P. Reedman

 

Art by Frances Quinn

The Bedingfield turncoat of Oxburgh Hall….

Oxburgh Hall - picture by Art Fund

Oxburgh Hall – picture by Art Fund

In this 2014 post mention was made of Sir Edmund Bedingfield of Oxburgh Hall, near King’s Lynn in Norfolk. He was a Yorkist-turned-Tudor supporter who, like the Stanleys and others, failed Richard III at Bosworth.

Sir Edmund was a Yorkist who benefited under Edward IV and Richard III (at the coronation of the latter, he was created a Knight of the Bath), but the ingrate signally withheld support at Bosworth. By 1487 Bedingfield was very cosy indeed with Henry Tudor, playing host to him—and Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort and the Earl of Oxford—at Oxburgh Hall at Easter 1487. I trust it stretched the Bedingfield finances to breaking point! The traitorous fellow then turned out for Henry at the Battle of Stoke Field, fighting under John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. After the battle, Bedingfield was made a knight banneret.

A rather handsome Henry VII

A rather handsome Henry VII from the Oxburgh Hall National Trust website

So, what conclusion are we to draw from all this? That Bedingfield was a staunch supporter of Edward IV, but did not agree with Richard III’s claim to the throne? He probably believed the rumours that Richard had done away with Edward IV’s two sons, and so went over the wall into the Tudor camp. One imagines he would subsequently have been very much under Henry’s eye, because that suspicious king very sensibly did not trust anyone who changed sides. Nevertheless Bedingfield prospered under the Tudors, as did his descendants, until their Catholicism got in the way under Elizabeth. Although that queen did honour Oxburgh with her presence in 1578.

Let us return to Easter 1487 (in April that year) and the royal visit to Oxburgh, which house, incidentally had been built after Edward IV granted Bedingfield a licence in 1482. Unusually, the chosen material was red brick, a very costly option at that time. Bedingfield’s gratitude can be seen in the numerous Yorkist falcon-and-fetterlock badges throughout the house, where Edward’s licence is on display. No doubt Bedingfield was especially honoured to have Elizabeth of York beneath his roof, because (in the absence of her brothers) he undoubtedly regarded her as the true heir of Edward IV.

falcon and fetterlock

According to Bedingfield family tradition, the king and queen did not lodge in the main house, but in the noble gatehouse, which has remained virtually unchanged since it was first built. Henry and his Yorkist queen would recognized everything about it were they to return now, and so would Elizabeth I.

Oxburgh Hall - 1482

According to a very detailed description in Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500 by Anthony Emery:

“The gatehouse is a tall, three-storeyed block with dominating half octagonal frontal towers. The latter are divided by seven tiers of sunk panels decorated with triplets of cusped arches surmounted by a battlemented head on blind machiolations. The four-centred entry arch with double relieving arches is closed by the original pair of oak doors. The four-light window above has a stepped transom with a three-light transomed window at second-floor level. The whole is spanned by an open-machiolated arch supporting a line of blind cusped arcading and crow-stepped parapet.

“The gatehouse is a subtly modulated composition. Ashlar stonework was chosen for the central windows but brick for those in the towers with open cinquefoil lights in the stair tower and uncusped single lights with brick labels to the closets in the east tower. Contrasting chevron brickwork is used over the principal window but a single line of yellow brick surmounts that above. Though blind arcading was a common enough tower decoration at the time—as at Buckden, Gainsborough Old Hall and Hadleigh Deanery—the height of the Oxburgh towers is emphasized by the diminishing elevation of the embracing panels of brickwork. The east tower has loopholes at ground level with two quatrefoils above set in blind recesses withy two-centred heads, whereas the side faces of the stair tower at all stages have quatrefoils set in square frames. The entrance position is curious, for its hood is cut by the west tower and the head stop has had to be turned as though it was purposed to be in line with the hall porch on the opposite side of the courtyard, though this still lay a little to the right as the gatehouse does to the whole north frontage.”

Yes, a very detailed description, and (to the likes of me) somewhat confusing, so here are two photographs of the gatehouse, which will perhaps make Emery’s words easier to follow. The first one is of the external approach, while the one below it is a view of the gatehouse from within the courtyard.

Gatehouse at Oxburgh - approach from outside

Gatehouse at Oxburgh from courtyard - from Tour Norfolk

In the illustration below, of the gatehouse chamber known as the King’s Room, I fear that according to the National Trust, it is something of a misnomer. It is not the room in which Henry slept, nor is it the bed, which is 1675. I have not been able to find anything to identify the actual room. All we know is that the bed in which Henry rested his head was described in the 1533 will of Edmund’s son and heir, another Edmund, as being covered with “…a fustian [wool or cotton fabric] covering or red and green sarsnet [silk] unicorns and scallop shells.”

The King's Room at Oxburgh Hall

The illustration below is of the Queen’s Room, which does appear to be the one in which Elizabeth of York slept. The two figures represent Henry and Elizabeth. Not sure about the accuracy if the 15th-century television.

Queen's Room - with Henry and Elizabeth

Oxburgh Hall is a very beautiful old house set in a moat, and is a great testament to the taste of Sir Edmund Bedingfield. But for those who believe Richard III was rightly the King of England, it is necessary to overlook the fellow’s Judas tendencies.

Bedingfield arms

Bedingfield

 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: